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Sep 22, 2016 Global Cents

The Essential Guide to Online Signatures, Part III: The Digital Signature

People tend to refer to digital signatures as electronic or vice versa, but as we’ve already established, electronic signatures are vastly different from the digital ones. So let’s dig into what exactly is a digital signature.

Let’s take a step back and look at the security concerns surrounding paper-based documents and workflows. The most common concerns organizations face when dealing with paper-based documents is whether the person who signed the document is who they claim to be. Traditionally, with paper-based documents the signature is verified by a notary. The notary plays a vital role in assuring all the parties involved that a document is authentic and can be trusted. Needless to say, digital workflows require that same level of authenticity and luckily the digital signature architecture provides one.

What is a digital signature?

Digital signatures are essentially a digital version of a “notarized signature”. With digital signatures, a trusted third party, known as a Certificate Authority (CA), serves as the notary in terms of verifying the signee identity. Certificate Authorities bind the signee identity to a PKI-based Digital Certificate – this cryptographic operation is designed to bind your digital certificate and the data being signed into one unique fingerprint, thus ensuring the authenticity of the signature.

To summarize, the cryptographic architecture behind digital signatures is designed to verify and assure the following:

  • The document is authentic and comes from a verified source
  • The document has not been tampered with since being digitally signed, as the signature would be displayed as invalid if changes were made
  • The identity of the signee has been verified by a trusted organization (the CA)

What are digital signatures used for?

Digital signatures are becoming more and more common within standard business practices such as signing contracts and agreements with customers and vendors. Unlike electronic signatures, which are designed for internal purposes and audits, digital signatures are focused on meeting the business transactions associated with external communications.

Who uses digital signatures?

Digital signatures are deployed across various organizations both in the public and private sectors. For example, the United States Government Printing Office (GPO) publishes electronic versions of the budget, public and private laws, and congressional bills with digital signatures. Universities such as the University of Chicago and Stanford are publishing electronic student transcripts with digital signatures.

In conclusion, digital signatures are designed to provide authenticity and integrity that can be held up in a court system. Deciding on what type of signature you want to implement should be dictated by the type of documents you need to sign and the level of authenticity you need the document to uphold.

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Published by Global Cents September 22, 2016