Question: Can malware or spyware do any real harm to my computer, or is it all just a bunch of hype?
Answer: Yes, malware, spyware, and adware can wreak havoc on your computer - from capturing financial account information, using your computer to make expensive phone calls or send spam emails, keeping you from using your web browser due to obnoxious (and fake) security warning popups, and even placing hard core porn links on your desktop.
I used to naively think that malware was just a minor but harmless annoyance, or that spyware was limited to just reporting my online preferences much like a grocery card at Safeway. That was until my home computers became infected with MalwareAlarm and I was unable to use my web browsers altogether, due to the constant popups claiming I needed to send this company money to get rid of the security popups.
More recently I turned off my anti-spyware software for a couple of days to troubleshoot some performance issues, and my system was almost immediately infected with IEMonster and another nasty adware infection called zlob.PornAdvertiser (and not from visiting any questionable or adult-related websites either).