Digital Signature Security: 4 Security Capabilities of an e-Signature
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E-signatures provide a fast and convenient way to get important documents signed. However, it’s important that electronically signed documents are kept secure and can have their validity proven when necessary.
There are several features of e-signatures that make this possible which we’re going to explore. First, let’s take a look at the basics of e-signatures, their benefits, and the different types you can use.
What is an e-signature?
An e-signature, or electronic signature, is a way of signing and authenticating an electronic document.
Electronic signatures have rapidly become a legitimate alternative to wet signatures, i.e. signing a document by hand. There is even legislation enshrining the use of them in law, such as the law regarding e-signatures in Canada and the Federal ESIGN Act of 2000 in the US.
E-signatures are a viable legal replacement for handwritten signatures and are used in many industries. They are a convenient way to sign a wide range of documents, including non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), purchasing contracts, and insurance paperwork.
What are the benefits of using e-signatures?
With the rise of cloud-based technologies, it has become more common for businesses to send and receive large volumes of their paperwork digitally. Using e-signatures complements this. They allow documents to easily be sent and signed without the need to print off a physical copy and send it through the mail.
By using e-signatures, businesses can streamline their digital workflows and speed up processes across the business, from hiring and onboarding to drafting and sending purchase orders.
Documents that have been signed electronically also take up much less storage space, as there’s no need for rooms full of filing cabinets. E-signatures also help to reduce paper waste, reducing the carbon footprint of an organization.
They can provide an added layer of security compared to wet signatures, provided they’re used in the right way. Digital documents can be more easily tracked throughout their lifecycle, and the digital nature of e-signatures means that their validity can be proven more easily than handwritten signatures in many cases.
There are two main types of electronic signature available for use, each providing varying levels of security and legal validity.
Standard Electronic Signature (SES)
A standard electronic signature is one of the most common types of e-signature used. An SES doesn’t use any kind of cryptographic encryption. It instead relies on the signer’s intent to sign as proof of validity.
The limited security protocols associated with this type of signature make it easy to use but also easy to refute. A standard electronic signature may be deemed legally binding if it can be established that the signer’s identity wasn’t falsified, but this can be difficult to prove.
Advanced Electronic Signatures (AES) & Digital Signatures
Digital signatures and advanced electronic signatures provide a more secure alternative to standard electronic signatures. They require the signer’s identity to be confirmed before the signing takes place. This makes it easier to prove their authenticity in court.
Verification can be made using a personal PIN or one-time passcode or by using an online e-signature platform.
4 security capabilities of an e-signature
A recent survey showed the majority of business owners and individuals who opted not to use e-signatures did so because of concerns over security or privacy, such as intervention from malicious actors.
However, there are several important security features of e-signatures and their associated software that can help to combat this stigma.
Documents that contain digital signatures, in particular, are often protected by document security. These features will go a long way to proving the authenticity of a digital contract and the intent of all parties involved to sign.
For example, many e-signing platforms will lock a document once the signing process has begun. This means that if the document needs to be altered in any way, all existing signatures on it become invalidated, and the revised document must be signed again.
The best e-signature solutions will also secure the document once it has been signed by all relevant parties. This prevents the document from being tampered with and further helps prove its validity.
Many e-signing platforms use asymmetric key cryptography to ensure the content of the document hasn’t been altered between signatures and won’t be altered afterward.
Each party can use an encrypted key to validate the various versions of a digitally signed document. In most cases, a document that has been altered in between signatures will trigger an alert and will not open correctly. The signing process will therefore fail, and all parties will be required to resign the document.
Evidence-based authentication is used to prove the authenticity of an e-signature. This is achieved by sending the document to a device or account that is known to be controlled by the intended signatory.
In order to further boost security, a passcode may be required to access the document. For example, a document may be sent by email, with a passcode sent separately by SMS, requiring the signer to have access to both accounts.
The aim of evidence-based authentication is to prove the identity of the signer, which, when combined with asymmetric encryption, can prove the validity of an e-signature and its associated document.
The best e-signing platforms will build a comprehensive audit trail of the signing process. This will help you to prove exactly when and how a signer interacted with a document. A comprehensive audit trail can help prove that documents haven’t been tampered with and that the person who signed was the intended signer.
Details that can be captured to form a strong audit trail can include IP addresses, date and time stamps, and the length of time that documents were viewed.
Digital signatures are secure
If you’re signing documents electronically, whether it’s a purchase order or a standard waiver (like this waiver template Word document), you need to be sure that the process is secure and that the document can be proven to be valid.
With the right e-signature platform, this doesn’t need to be a concern. Security features such as asymmetric encryption and evidence-based authentication can ensure that the identity of signers is proven and that the documents are not tampered with during and after the signing process.
A comprehensive audit trail can help you to prove the validity of the document and the authenticity of the signatures on it. All of these measures combined will ensure that your electronically signed documents are as safe as can be.
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