Back to Basics: The Advantages of Digital Signing over Electronic Signing

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 should do.

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 license 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 document.

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 reliability.

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