With Internet Service Providers (ISPs) monitoring for email and filtering out junk messages, some people think that spam has died down. However, the next generation of spamming is set to utilize entire networks of infected computers called “botnets”.

Never heard of it before? Here’s how botnet works: Each infected computer running this type of malicious software is called a “bot”, and each can be used to send spam, steal passwords or other private information, and hack into computer systems. Together, they link up to form an entire network and that’s where serious damage can occur. Mashable helps us take a look into what ISPs and others are doing to combat botnets and spam.

With infections perennially hard to stop, especially on computers with outdated software or lacking in antivirus protection, one key front in the war against botnets involves enlisting millions of average people – hapless owners of infected computers – to take action by cleaning their machines and keeping them up to date. Even if the government or industry wanted to bypass these users, it couldn’t. That’s because in the United States, and many other places, private machines can’t be touched without a court order.

The Industry Botnet Group (a partnership of computer companies, Internet companies and even the White House) is looking to increase information sharing among institutions to increase consumer education. IBG recognizes the problem they face: knowing that millions of computers are infected that cannot be controlled or cleaned up. So they’re constantly looking for ways to persuade consumers to take a more active role in securing their computers.

With botnets’ current prevalence and ease of use, curtailing the “new spam” will be an uphill battle. But the first step is informing and educating consumers on ways to avoid botnets, and ways to best protect against them. So what can you do? Protecting your computer, first and foremost, by 1) keeping up with automatic updates for your Operating Systems and 2) making sure you have a solid antivirus software installed.

“People have been trained not to click on e-mails or pop-ups they don’t understand because it might be a phishing attack,” says Comcast executive Michael O’Reirdan. Which means a surprising number of people have disabled automatic updates for their systems and have no antivirus software protection at all. These are two very simple precautions you can take to protect yourself against the wave of computers being infected. And with the help of consumers protecting themselves, the government and the private sector will be much better equipped to fight the botnet battle.