Digital Signatures: Ensure They Stand Up to Scrutiny
Monday, 10th December 2012
When everything (it seems) is going digital, why aren't digital signatures more commonly used? Deb Hunt explores what constitutes a digital signature that will stand up to possible court challenges.
Automated business processes can be slowed down by the need for signatures. Digital signatures enable paper-free, expedited and secure business processes. With digital signatures, organisations can eliminate their reliance on paper for obtaining signature approvals while maintaining the security and integrity of their signed documents. In addition to eliminating the time-consuming and expensive reliance on paper, digital signatures enhance collaboration, improve efficiency, and satisfy a crucial component of any automation effort.
What is a Digital Signature?
Signatures are commonly used to authenticate documents. When you sign a physical document, you are authenticating its contents. Similarly, digital signatures are used to authenticate the contents of electronic documents. They can be used with PDFs, email messages and word processing documents.
A digital signature can be used to authenticate the identity of the sender of a message or the signer of a document, and possibly to ensure that the original content of the message or document that has been sent is unchanged. Digital signatures are easily transportable, cannot be imitated by someone else, and can be automatically time-stamped.
A digital signature system needs to support multiple applications. Many electronic signature systems enable the signing of documents created with the most commonly used applications, such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat. Some digital signature systems support other popular applications like AutoCAD. Traditionally, when signing paper documents, it doesn't matter what type of document it is, be it a form, an invoice or a contract. The paperless world requires the same flexibility.
Digital signatures are often confused with “electronic signatures”, which are likely to be a bit-map representation, either from a scanned image, a fax copy or a picture of someone’s signature, or may even be a typed acknowledgement or acceptance. However, depending on where in the world one is, these terms can be used interchangeably.
Digital signatures are a sub-group of electronic signatures that provide the levels of security needed in order to conduct electronic operations securely and with integrity. Unlike other electronic signatures, only digital signatures are based on nationally and internationally approved standards which increase the chances that the signed data or document evidence will withstand possible court challenges.
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