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Information technology giant Hewlett-Packard (HPQ - Free Analyst Report) has agreed to buy security software provider ArcSight (ARST) for about $1.5 billion in cash, or $43.50 a share, which represents a 24% premium over the preannouncement price.

The purchase of ArcSight, which makes products that help governments and businesses monitor their networks for suspicious activity, would give H-P access to the increasingly important Internet security segment. Recent high-profile security breaches show just how vulnerable society is to cyberattacks. Every time a computer connects to a network, the user is taking a risk. The problem is compounded with the increasing number of devices, from printers to ATMs, that are able to communicate.

The offer for ArcSight is also demonstrative of H-P's plan to expand into more diverse and lucrative segments than the relatively low-margined PC business. H-P is not the only computer company to have thought of this. Just weeks ago, it was in a bidding war with Dell (DELL) over data storage firm 3Par (PAR), which specializes in cloud computing, another hot area. H-P appears to have won that battle with a $2 billion offer, nearly twice what Dell initially put on the table. Earlier in the year, H-P acquired both telecom equipment maker 3Com and Palm, which makes mobile devices. 

Intel (INTC - Free Analyst Report), too, appears eager to move beyond its traditional business. A few weeks ago, the PC chipmaker offered $1.4 billion in cash for wireless semiconductor firm Infineon and $7.7 billion for security software designer McAfee (MFE).

In 2010, there have been more than 1,000 M&A transactions in the electronics and information technology segments. And with valuations near relative lows and large firms flush with cash, the acquisition trend is likely to continue. Software companies, which typically sport wide margins, will probably be popular targets. Those that operate in the wireless or security markets would likely be the most sought after.

Investors thinking of taking advantage of this trend should keep in mind that it would be unwise to purchase a stock solely for its takeover potential. Still, it’s an important factor worth considering.