Mastercard’s new Vancouver tech hub will help stop you from getting hacked
The global giant’s west coast centre has now officially opened to partners and visitors, and will focus on global intelligence and cybersecurity.
Identity fraud is more common than you might think. In the U.S. alone, 42 million people every year painstakingly piece their lives back together – social insurance and taxes included – after their personal information is stolen. More than $56 billion is lost to swindlers annually, and it’s not just from Nigerian princes persuading old ladies to give up their details. Synthetic identities can be used to create accounts, scammers can gain access to secure areas, or bank details can be hacked at the point of transaction. Fraud is a growing industry, and one that payment giants consider to be booming. And thieves could get you too.
It’s one of the areas that Mastercard will double down on in its new Canadian tech hub, located in Vancouver. Launched in 2020 and now open for the first time to partners and visitors, the Howe Street office is the home of the multinational’s Global Intelligence and Cyber Centre of Excellence. The site is the newest of Mastercard’s eight global hubs, and will lead the company’s strategy to incorporate newfangled security solutions into its payment processing and beyond.
“Our residence in Canada is growing, and the anchoring of the tech hub in Vancouver is based on two reasons,” Sasha Krstic, president of Mastercard Canada, tells Vancouver Tech Journal. “The first is that we know Vancouver is a top tech talent hub globally. And so we wanted to capitalize on that. We also have experience with incredible talent in Vancouver because over the last couple of years, Mastercard has invested and purchased two companies in Canada that are tech-focused. In 2017, we acquired NuData, a Vancouver-based company focused on biometrics. Part of the reason that we've chosen Vancouver is to build on our original team that was here, and expand that into a multipurpose team that touches and builds solutions that tap Vancouver and Canadian talent.”
Mastercard takes cybersecurity seriously — and it’s not just concentrating on protecting its credit cards. Johan Gerber, the company’s executive vice president of security and cyber innovation, predicts that there will be more than $9 trillion of digital transactions by 2024, and that 50 percent of the world will be using digital wallets by the same year. While fraud will doubtless increase across that period – scammers have always thrived on ignorance around new tech – the company suggests that the sophistication of Mastercard’s security solutions will outpace the thieves.
If there’s one word that keeps being repeated by the company’s executives over the course of our discussions, it’s “trust.” Buy some eggs from your neighbour’s farm, and you’ll know what you’re getting, and who you’re dealing with (and who to send them back to if they turn out rotten). With more than five billion people on the internet, the same degree of intimacy is impossible for online transactions. But Mastercard’s tech aims to ensure that people can still purchase goods safely, with a high level of confidence between sellers and buyers.
“My vision is to enable the global digital economy to feel like a local marketplace,” says Chris Reid, the company’s executive vice president of identity solutions. “To create an economy that is as rich and vibrant as the one where you can go down to the local market in the town that you're in – where you go there every week, you don't need to reintroduce yourself, and someone knows that you are there. In the event that you might leave your purse or your wallet behind [the merchant will be] like, ‘Hey, I know you – don't worry.’ And so that's what we're aiming to do. We're aiming to provide access to goods and services for people with the same ease and simplicity.”
Securing payments is a balancing act. Tip too far toward protectiveness, and legitimate transactions will be blocked – an annoyance for both customer and merchant. Veer too much toward leniency, and Mastercard risks fraudsters slipping through the net, including coordinated and targeted attacks that can rack up hundreds of thousands in stolen money. To combat this, the company uses many tools working collaboratively to determine the truth of a transaction. Simple data points like typing speed, familiarity with a merchant, and cross-referenced email addresses are all considered, but so are more complex metrics including whether a device like a phone or tablet is laid flat or held in a person’s hands.
The Vancouver hub is at the centre of developing these cutting-edge technologies for trust and security. So far, 30 patents have been filed from the downtown office, with Krstic suggesting that there’s plenty more coming down the pipe. Already, the local team is working on its real-time view of every transaction across the globe – imagine a zoomed-out Google Earth but with a slicker interface – which integrates complex AI to detect and stop fraud as it happens. Other innovations include a holographic payment terminal: a solution that eliminates the need to touch a pinpad, and renders the digits invisible from any angle other than the purchaser’s. For the digital world, the company is developing how to process secure payments in alternative realities, creating a VR supermarket where headset-wearers look at an item to add it to their cart. When the shopper is ready to check out, the screen displays a cube with lit-up squares, and by having the buyer stare at each glowing point in turn, Mastercard can verify a person’s identity by tracking the unique movements of their eye muscles.
The tech that’s being developed in Vancouver is part of Mastercard’s vision to put consumers first. Reid, for instance, talks about cybersecurity in terms of the individual – how to protect those 42 million Americans each year whose identities are stolen. His motivation for saving their $56 million is to ensure that the proceeds of that fraud don’t go towards crime – “drugs and weapons,” as he puts it – but rather to “reinject that money back into making our societies more affordable; making them more inclusive.”
It’s a philosophy which is mirrored in the ethos of the tech hub as a whole. Each of the eight Mastercard centres have a distinct persona that matches the city they call home. The Vancouver hub, true to the region’s roots, hopes to focus on doing good in both its local and global communities.
“It’s about innovating, motivating, and educating outside and inside and outside of our walls,” Mansur Mirani, vice president of the Vancouver tech hub, tells Vancouver Tech Journal. “Now we’ve officially opened, we’ve had lots of partners and customers coming in. And so our goal is to have the centre as a landmark in Vancouver – our little own Science World, if you will – focused on innovation and cyber intelligence. We will continue to invite audiences – including partners, customers, and especially youth and underrepresented groups – as we strive to spark interest in tech from an early age, particularly for those who maybe do not necessarily see themselves as a technologist or a cybersecurity specialist.”
Placing the newest tech hub in Vancouver is a big investment in the region, and Mastercard plans to anchor in the city for the long haul. As well as building a talent pipeline in Vancouver from kids to adults and training new leaders in the city in cutting-edge cybersecurity and global intelligence, the company is helping bolster the local ecosystem with long-lasting, technical jobs. It’s a move, Mastercard hopes, will support not just its customers but the city.
“Tech talent is hard talent to find, Krstic confirms. “There's not enough of it around the country or around the globe. And so we believe that as a technology company, we have to help create the pipeline for that tech talent. And that's why we have partnered with a number of organizations across Canada to help build those community outreach and build some of that tech pipeline talent. We're very focused on leveraging Canadian innovation to help secure our digital economy, both in Canada and globally.”
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