June 7, 2016
Reading that heading, you may be confused that
there is even a difference between digital signatures and electronic
signatures. That is hardly surprising given how often the terms are used
interchangeably. In truth, there are significant differences between the two.To look at these differences, it is useful to be
clear about what we want from signing a document. When something is so commonly used for so
long, it’s likely you’ve never really stopped to think about what a signature
When a paper document is signed with a
traditional wet ink signature, there are two things happening. The first is we
are demonstrating proof of our identity. The size, shape and style of my hand
written signature was evidence that the only person who could have signed the
document was me. It made the document authentic.
The second thing was making the document
reliable. Once my signature was applied to a document, the contents of the
paper couldn’t be easily altered. If a new, slightly different document was
created, my signature could not be copied to it. I would need to sign the new
document to give it authenticity and reliability.
Electronic signing is a very broad term that covers
any electronic method to indicate agreement.
Clicking a check box to agree with the software licence terms when you
install software is a form of electronic signing. For most people though, electronic
signing is about adding a representation of their hand written signature to an
electronic document. This could be achieved by signing on a touch sensitive
screen, sometimes referred to as signature on glass. The image of the signature
may be placed in the document by using an online signing service. Or it could
be as simple as copying a picture of your signature into the electronic
How well do electronic signatures pass our tests
for authenticity and reliability? In the digital world, anyone with access to a
scanner, which is pretty much everybody, can create a copy of your signature
and place it in a document. If I receive a document that contains an image of a
signature I can easily create a new document and transfer your signature to it.
There is nothing about the signature image which prevents me from modifying the
document with your signature remaining.
For these reasons, electronic signing provides limited authenticity and
For a signing process to be properly called
digital signing, it must use the PKI standard. Each digital
signature is unique to both the document and the person signing. It cannot
be forged or copied to another document.
Any changes to the document will invalidate the signature. Think of a
digital signature as an electronic signature that also seals the document’s
content to provide the highest authenticity and reliability available.
Online digital signing is as easy as electronic
signing but gives you a document that can be independently verified offline. You
don’t need to rely on the signing service to validate the document and they
don’t need to keep a copy of your document.
To see how simple it is to sign a document
online with the security of a digital signature, try Secured Signing freeway
account. For the curious or technically
minded we also have a lot more detail about how digital signing works at http://www.securedsigning.com/resources/intro-to-digital-signatures.
Til next time!