We hear these terms, but what do they really mean to real families with real kids who, we’re told, download this stuff all the time? What they mean for most of us is family PCs operating way below normal speed, sometimes crashing a lot or getting so locked up we have to call in the techies (often our kids!) for help. As the New York Times puts it in a thorough look at the phenomenon from both consumer and adware sender (from sleazy to legitimate) perspectives, these nasty little software programs have turned the Web into a virtual minefield for us all. We can accidentally download it just by going to certain Web sites or downloading adware disguised as a music file on a file-sharing network like BitTorrent or Kazaa. “Some spyware creeps onto a computer’s hard drive unannounced, often by piggybacking onto other software programs that people download or by sneaking through backdoor security gaps in Web browsers,” according to the Times. The good news is, increasingly, legitimate adware businesses don’t want to annoy us, their bread ‘n’ butter. They’re trying to be more up front with us and help us delete what we don’t want on our computers. Meanwhile, while they’re cleaning up their act, there are countermeasures: free spyware-detection software like Ad-Aware and Spybot-Search & Destroy. You can’t really have a secure, healthy family PC these days without it.