PASSWORD STEALING MALWARE has sneaked onboard Microsoft Flight Simulator in the guise of downloadable content (DLC) from Flight Sim Labs (FSLabs).
A dodgy file called 'test.exe' was discovered in the DLC's legitimate installer by eagle-eyed Reddit users who noted that it extracts usernames and passwords from Google's Chrome browser and appears to send them on to FSLabs.
In response to the outcry, Lefteris Kalamaras, founder of FSLabs, explained that the malware is, in fact, a means of stopping piracy through digital rights management (DRM) in that it only extracts data from computers running pirated versions of Flight Simulator.
"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," said Kalamaras.
"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 pirated serial number (not blacklisted numbers)," he said.
Piracy has long been a problem for game developers who have tried an all manner of techniques to discourage people from illegally obtaining their games, including making it impossible to progress beyond a certain point if the software is pirated.
However, dropping malware into legitimate DLC is arguably a step too far, even if it isn't used against people with legitimate copies of Flight Simulator.
The legality of such a move is also questionable and questions have been raised on how secure the collected data is when its sent to FSLabs, and how the company stores it and keeps it out of the reach of the reach of opportunistic malicious actors.
As such, FSLabs has decided to offer an installer for the DLC without the offending test.exe file.
"While the majority of our customers understand that the fight against piracy is a difficult and ongoing battle that sometimes requires drastic measures, we realise that a few of you were uncomfortable with this particular method which might be considered to be a bit heavy handed on our part," said Kalamaras.
"It is for this reason we have uploaded an updated installer that does not include the DRM check file in question."
This won't exactly be a victory for pirates, as the malware merely identified and grassed-up illegitimate copies rather than block them.
But it could mean that people could more readily pirate Flight Simulator without worrying about their data being sucked up.
That being said, the Flight Simulator community is one that's rather hardcore, with people paying large sums of cash for various cockpit emulating controls and tech, so we doubt shelling-out for a copy of Microsoft's enduring game is too big an ask for them. µ
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