Diagram illustrating types of electronic signatures

Electronic and Digital Signatures – Knowing your buzz words!

Electronic and Digital Signatures, the new “norm” as we know it?

Signatures have been a part of society for almost as long as civilization itself. Signing is an accepted method of confirmation whether it is an artist declaring their work, a binding agreement, or even receiving a package.

The evolution of cryptography and technology in recent years, means electronic signatures or e-signatures have become ever more common. Their security and convenience mean that they are replacing “wet” signatures in many contexts.

What are e-signatures?

E-signatures allow people and entities to identify and authenticate themselves, and even digitally sign electronic documents, data, and records. Much of the world – especially the business world – has moved online and this, coupled with the need to reduce paper waste has resulted in the wider use of electronic signatures.

Operating almost exclusively electronically and online is the new norm, and this has made e-signatures a crucial component of business in a post-COVID world.

Types of e-signaturesBlog Post image Digital and electronic signatures

There are many different types of
e-signatures, each of which varies in terms of how they are applied, how they are captured, and what they can be used for.

A Click-to-Sign signature is the most commonly used form of electronic signature. Click-to-sign allows users to enter a simple signature (usually a typed name or ID number, or template image signature) to acknowledge their signature and identify themselves. It is mainly used to  sign simple documents like deliveries – they offer little legality or protection since it is difficult to confirm who signed them.

Basic or standard electronic signatures offer a little more protection and help ensure the reliability of the signer, as they are protected with a cryptographic digital certificate, user confirmation and action (such as an OTP sent to their cell phone), and a trusted timestamp. In addition to cryptographic digital certification, the user and actions are used to verify the identity of the signer. The secure timestamp gives the  signature long-term validity.

Lastly, there are digital signatures, of which there are two types: advanced and qualified e-signatures. The terms electronic signature” and “digital signature” are often used interchangeably, however, a digital signature is a highly secure type of digital signature, and currently has the highest trust and authority for e-signatures.

An advanced electronic signature (AES) uses similar technology to standard electronic signatures but adds an extra layer of security and reliability by assigning a unique “signing key” to every signatory. This signing key links a user’s registered and verified identity to each of their signatures, allowing for proven identity.

A qualified electronic signature (QES) is slightly better than an AES, as the signer’s identity is verified by a qualified Certificate Authority when registering for the digital certificate.

Current issues with Electronic and Digital Signatures

E-signatures have gained a lot of traction recently and some forms of e-signaturesmay even do a better job of identifying and confirming the signature of a signatory.

Some industries and authorities still do not fully accept the validity of documents signed electronically or digitally, however. Because it can be difficult to determine whether the correct signatory signed the document, knows they signed it, and that it wasn’t tampered with. It means that certain circumstances require a physical presence of the signatory and witnessing the document being signed.

Although AES and QES were developed to overcome these shortcomings and do it well, they are comparatively new technologies. It will still take some time to normalise their use and get them approved across the board.

That said, advances in technology, digital transformation, and the growing need to conduct business remotely and online mean that it’s only a matter of time before electronic signatures become the norm.

If you’d like to know more about how to implement digital signatures in your organization, why not contact us?


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