FlightSimLabs, a studio that specialises in custom add-ons for other company’s flight sims, has been found to be secretly installing a program onto user’s computers designed to check whether they’re playing a pirated copy of their software.

The code—basically a Chrome password dumping tool— was discovered by Reddit user crankyrecursion on February 18, and as TorrentFreak report was designed to trigger “a process through which the company stole usernames and passwords from users’ web browsers.”

Rather than deny or challenge the discovery, FlightSimLabs boss Lefteris Kalamaras wrote on the company’s forums that yes, the code is in there, but it’s only designed to be used on pirated copies of their software (emphasis his).

I’d like to shed some light on what is actually going on.

1) First of all - there are no tools used to reveal any sensitive information of any customer who has legitimately purchased our products. We all realize that you put a lot of trust in our products and this would be contrary to what we believe.

2) There is a specific method used against specific serial numbers that have been identified as pirate copies and have been making the rounds on ThePirateBay, RuTracker and other such malicious sites.

3) If such a specific serial number is used by a pirate (a person who has illegally obtained our software) and the installer verifies this against the pirate serial numbers stored in our server database, it takes specific measures to alert us. “Test.exe” is part of the DRM and is only targeted against specific pirate copies of copyrighted software obtained illegally. That program is only extracted temporarily and is never under any circumstances used in legitimate copies of the product. The only reason why this file would be detected after the installation completes is only if it was used with a pirate serial number (not blacklisted numbers).

This method has already successfully provided information that we’re going to use in our ongoing legal battles against such criminals.

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As this breakdown of “test.exe” by user Luke Gorman shows, that is hardly reassuring for customers. Anyone paying for FlightSimLabs’ A320 module has had a program installed on their computers, without their knowledge, and which is capable of stealing their Chrome passwords. That’s malware.

Not only does the A320 installer request that customers turn off their antivirus during installation, but the only protection they have against the program stealing their passwords (or being exploited by a third party) is FlightSimLabs’ word.

In response to the outcry, FlightSimLabs posted an updated version of the A320 module on February 19, this time without the malware present.

Hello all,

I would like to further address some of the controversy that has taken place this evening.

I want to reiterate and reaffirm that we as a company and as flight simmers would never do anything to knowingly violate the trust that you have placed in us by not only buying our products but supporting them and FlightSimLabs.

While the majority of our customers understand that the fight against piracy is a difficult and ongoing battle that sometimes requires drastic measures, we realize that a few of you were uncomfortable with this particular method which might be considered to be a bit heavy handed on our part. It is for this reason we have uploaded an updated installer that does not include the DRM check file in question.

I want to thank you all for voicing your concerns in a considerate manner on our forums and elsewhere. We do listen to our customers because without you, there would be no FlightSimLabs.

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UPDATE 5:44pm - FSL have made another post, this time going into detail on how the code supposedly worked. It also contains another apology:

We have already replaced the installer in question and can only promise you that we will do everything in our power to rectify the issue with those who feel offended, as well as never use any such heavy-handed approach in the future. Once again, we humbly apologize!