Hugh Pickens writes writes: "Reuters reports that Apple will buy fingerprint sensor technology developer AuthenTec for about $356 million, striking a deal that could help Apple bring fingerprint technology, already used in mobile phones in Japan for authentication of mobile payments, to markets such as the United States, where mobile-wallet services have been slow to catch on. Some analysts expect the iPhone 5 to include some form of mobile payments technology. "In the past 5 years, the growth of iPhone and Android smartphones has made mobile data security essential, not just a 'nice-to-have' feature," says Ben Yu, Managing Director of Sierra Ventures, one of the early investors in AuthenTec. "People have their whole lives on the phones." AuthenTec's embedded fingerprint scanners and other identity-related software is particularly useful now that Near Field Communications, or NFC-enabled, phones have begun to appear in the market. At the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas this week, security experts demonstrated ways to attack Android smartphones using NFC. BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis says AuthenTec technology could potentially also help Apple combat problems such as theft of its more portable products such as iPhones. "If they could have a way where they could tie the phone to a user more tightly, that would make sense for them," says Gillis. The price tag for AuthenTec is a drop in the bucket of Apple's cash pile of $117.2 billion. "We'll see if it's a one-off or if Tim Cook will start to level his cash balance and acquire talent," adds Gillis."