Mastercard to buy blockchain analytics start-up CipherTrace

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The MasterCard logo on a smartphone arranged in Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands.

Gabby Jones | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Mastercard has agreed to acquire blockchain analytics start-up CipherTrace, in the latest sign of how major companies are warming to cryptocurrencies.

The payments giant said Thursday it entered into an agreement to buy CipherTrace for an undisclosed amount. Based in Menlo Park, California, CipherTrace develops tools that help businesses and law enforcement root out illicit digital currency transactions. The company’s competitors include New York-based Chainalysis and London start-up Elliptic.

“Digital assets have the potential to reimagine commerce, from everyday acts like paying and getting paid to transforming economies, making them more inclusive and efficient,” Ajay Bhalla, president of cyber and intelligence at Mastercard, said in a statement. “With the rapid growth of the digital asset ecosystem comes the need to ensure it is trusted and safe.”

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Mastercard shares were up about 0.6% Thursday morning in New York.

A key concern with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is that the people transacting them are anonymous. That has made digital assets the currency of choice for a number of hackers and other criminals. However, the blockchain is a public ledger of all digital currency transactions, and services like CipherTrace’s analyze movements of funds to ascertain whether they’re dubious.

Mastercard said the deal would help its customers protect themselves and comply with regulations as they start to build out their own digital currency offerings. CipherTrace says its platform is used by some of the world’s largest banks and crypto exchanges.

The deal is the latest sign of how major corporates are showing increased interest in the crypto market. Mastercard itself said it would open its network up to select cryptocurrencies this year, while rival Visa recently disclosed more than $1 billion worth of crypto was spent by consumers using its crypto-linked payment cards.

Bitcoin was trading at around $47,000 Thursday, up nearly 2% in the last 24 hours. The world’s largest digital coin slumped sharply on Tuesday after El Salvador adopted it as legal tender.

Proponents of cryptocurrencies saw the move as a step toward wider adoption of the asset class. However, El Salvador’s bitcoin rollout wasn’t without its issues, with the country temporarily disabling its official bitcoin wallet to increase the capacity of its servers.