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Mastercard moves into 'blockchain forensics' with an eye on crypto security

The biggest players in payments are expanding into crypto.

Privacy and security on the internet
James Martin/CNET

Mastercard's ambition to become a player in the realm of cryptocurrency has taken a turn toward security. On Thursday, it announced its acquisition of CipherTrace, a crypto intelligence company that works to protect financial institutions from crypto threats using "blockchain forensics." 

In February, Mastercard announced the integration of select cryptocurrencies into its existing network. The change would allow direct payments using cryptocurrency within Mastercard's network.

Mastercard's latest move comes as cryptocurrency continues to infiltrate mainstream financial services. As Bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies become easier to buy, more Americans are becoming interested in the nascent digital asset. But concerns over volatility and sparse regulation have made lawmakers wary.

Mastercard acquiring CipherTrace appears to be a bid to create trust around digital assets, as Mastercard works to adopt direct crypto payments within its network and considers how that change will play into their existing products and business.

While Mastercard doesn't issue cards itself, it's a major player in the global payment business, connecting banks, businesses and consumers in order to facilitate electronic payments. In the future, the company expects a growing share of these payments to involve cryptocurrencies.

Drawing on CipherTrace's expertise, Mastercard says it will "provide businesses with greater transparency to help identify and understand their risks and to help manage their digital asset regulatory and compliance obligations."

"We help companies -- whether they are banks or cryptocurrency exchanges, government regulators or law enforcement -- to keep the crypto economy safe," said Dave Jevans, CEO of CipherTrace, in the announcement. "Our two companies share this vision to provide security and trust throughout the ecosystem."

As cryptocurrency continues to work its way into the financial mainstream, the SEC is expanding its scrutiny of the industry. Given that some exchanges allow customers to buy cryptocurrency with credit cards, Mastercard is expected to continue to strengthen its security capabilities and pave the way for greater integration of blockchain technology.