How spyware can hurt you

My last post talked about the definitions of spyware; in this post, I would like to show how spyware can cause serious problems for anyone.
Norwich, Connecticut substitute 7th grade teacher Julie Amero was recently convicted of showing pornographic pop-ups to several of the children in her class. Her sentence could be as long as 40 years without parole.
You might be wondering how this is connected to spyware. As it turns out, the classroom computer was filled with spyware-launched pop-ups(stored on the hard drive, not coming from the Internet).
A discussion of the facts in the case can be read here.

If you let your anti-spyware protection lapse, or dont have it in the first place, you become a prime target of the bots that deliver the spyware.
You know you have some form of spyware when your computer mysteriously slows down for no reason and your anti-virus reports nothing found.

The teacher, Juile Amero, was caught in a never-ending loop of pop-ups. This is a common enough occurence that most people understand the confusion and helplessness that accompanies this. How this might hurt you is if you are caught, by your boss or a loved one, in the same situation it would be very embarrassing and possibly job threatening. You would know you were innocent, but would anyone believe you? Probably not, because the impression that most people have about porn is that you have to go to it to get flooded by pop-ups.
That’s the wrong impression, because the advertising networks that use spyware will download the program onto your computer at an innocuous website and the spyware will look at your search terms and interpret certain words to mean that you are looking for “adult material” and give you pop-ups from pornographic sites on the same ad network. So you dont have to go to the porn, the porn will come to you.

This is how spyware can hurt you.

You really need up-to-date anti-virus, effective anti-spyware(some are better than others: Spy Sweeper and Counterspy are two good programs), a good two-way firewall(the firewall built in to Windows XP and Vista are not as good as good 3rd-party firewalls such as ZoneAlarm), and keeping up with Windows Updates.

Otherwise, you are just asking to end up like Miss Amero, losing your job and going to jail for 40 years for something that isnt your fault.