What's in a name? In this case, quite a bit actually.
The terms electronic signatures and digital signatures are frequently used interchangeably yet there are some key differences and specific reasons for why you might use one over the other. Here at GlobalSign, we commonly speak with organizations confused by the two options and need help determining what type of signature they should adopt into their document signing workflow.
Let’s jump in and break down the differences.
What is an Electronic Signature?
According to the USFederal ESIGN Act, electronic signatures are defined as:
“Electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record."
More loosely, e-signatures are used to refer to any signature that's applied electronically as opposed to on a physical piece of paper. Electronic signatures can be used to confirm content within a document, however not all electronic signatures’ assurance levels are the same in the eyes of the law. If you're in an industry that is highly regulated where you dealwith personal and/or private information and data –finance or accounting, HR, legal, or healthcare, to name a few – then you might need to consider a more secure option.
What is a Digital Signature?
Digital signatures are a form of electronic signatures – both are used for document signing – but there are a few important features that make them unique.
Before going intodetail, it's helpful to take a step back and look at the security concerns surrounding paper-based documents and workflows. The most common concerns individuals and organizations face when dealing with paper-based documents are:
- Is the person who signed the document who they claim to be? Or, put another way, how can I verify if the signature is valid and hasn’t been forged?
- How do I safeguard (or from the receiver’s perspective, confirm) that the content within the document hasn’t been tampered with?
The existence of notaries helped address these very valid concerns and can be traced back to the ancient Egyptaccording to the National Notary Association. Notaries today play a key role in assuring the parties of a transaction that the document is authentic and can be trusted.
As we would suspect, the same problems exist in electronic document workflows. Digital signatures were developed to help solve this problem – they are, essentially, the digital equivalent to adding a notarized signature to your paperwork. In the case of digital signatures, a trusted third party, known as a Certificate Authority (CA) is responsible for verifying your identity.
Certificate Authorities bind your identity to a PKI-based digital certificate which allows you to use your certificate to create digital signatures locally using a token or remote using any of the cloud-based signing platforms.
When you apply a digital signature to a document, cryptography binds your digital certificate (provided after vetting the users identity) with the data being signed into one unique “fingerprint.” Just like with a real fingerprint, the cryptographic components that make up your digitally signed document cannot be replicated or altered. This is what makes digital signatures secure and compliant and therefore more powerful in the eyes of the law. Digital signatures can be used to digitally transform, digitally “package” or digitally seal your documents.
In summary, a carefully thought-out and secure cryptographic operation allows digital signatures to assure the following:
- The document is authentic and comes from a verified source
- Identities have been verified by a publicly trusted organization (the CA)
- The document has not been tampered with since being digitally signed as the signature would be displayed as invalid if changes were made
Is this Signature Digital & Can it be Trusted?
The easiest way to verify whether a document or PDF has been successfully digitally signed and trustedis to open the document signing panel in Adobe Reader and look for a green checkmark next to the signer's signature. This verifies that the signature is indeed authentic and proves the document’s integrity. You can access the Adobe Reader tool here.
If for any reason there is an issue with the signature or document, you will see a yellow triangle or red circle warning in the document reader or signer, indicating there is a problem or an invalid signature.
What Types of Signatures are Legally Binding?
Many regulations (e.g. eIDAS) and statesnow require digital signatures over Electronic Signatures due to the fact that a digital signature provides authenticity and integrity that can be held up in a court system. Deciding 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.
GlobalSign digital signatures and seals help you meet these global regulations and standards:
- US ESIGN (Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce)
- FDA CFR 21 Part 11
- US UETA (Uniform Electronic Transactions Act)
- US State Professional Engineering (PE) Seals
- UN Model Electronic Signature Law
- Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX)
- eIDAS (advanced & qualified e-signatures, eSeals)
- CNCA (Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People's Republic of China)
If you have questions about your unique use case and whether digital signatures might be required, reach out to one of our friendly PKI experts and we’d be happy to help.
Which Document Signing Platforms Support Digital Signatures?
The good news is that many of the most popular document signing and workflow platforms enable users to apply secure digital signatures. However, the way they are applied and the terminology used by various providers can vary.
DocuSign & Adobe Acrobat Sign
DocuSign supports digital signatures and electronic seals. Through integration with GlobalSign,documents that are digitally signed are verified forintegrity and signer identity.
Adobe supports two types of digital signatures, Certified and Approval.
Adding a certifying signature to a PDF means you are the author of the document, have finalized its contents and want to secure it against tampering after it has been distributed.
Certified documents display a blue ribbon across the top of the document containing the signer's name and the Certificate issuer - a clear, visual indicator of document authenticity and authorship.
Approval signatures expedite an organization's approval procedure by capturing the electronic approvals made by individuals or departments and embedding them within the actual PDF.
Signatures can be customized to include an image (e.g. your physical signature or official seal) and various signature details (e.g. signing location, date, reason for signing)
Example of Adobe certified digital signature
Microsoft also supports two types of Digital Signatures using a token certificate - visible and non-visible.
Visible Digital Signature
This appears as a signature line, like a physical document. This method is commonly used when you need multiple users to sign documents like contracts or other agreements
An invisible signature is used when you need to provide document authenticity, integrity and origin assurances, but don’t need a visible signature line. Documents with a non-visible signature display a blue ribbon in their task bar.
How Can I Implement Digital Signatures in My Team or Organization?
Now that you understand the difference between Electronic and Digital Signatures, let’s take a look at the different options you have for implementation:
- You can sign locally using a token
- Or you can utilize cloud signature solutions
Your unique digital signature configuration will look different depending on the number of users needing the service, your organizational structure, your IT systems configuration, and other factors.
How Do I Digitally Sign a Document?
Once your IT administrator has taken the steps necessary to enable digital signatures for your organization, digitally signing a document is just as easy taking a pen to a piece of paper!
See how digital signatures can help your business speed up its operations, reduce paper waste, start collaborating digitally, and protect valuable information and data by checking out thesefree digital signature resources.
- How Do Digital Signatures Work
- Digital Signatures Made Easy eBook
- GlobalSign’s Cloud-Based Digital Signing Service for Enterprises
- What’s the Difference between Advanced and Qualified Signatures in eIDAS?
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to includenew regulations for applying e-signatures and to acomodate advances in digital signatures, including GlobalSign's cloud-based Digital Signing Service.
What is the difference between electronic signature vs digital signature? ›
An electronic signature is a digital form of a wet link signature that is legally binding and secure. Digital Signature is a secured signature that works with an electronic signature and relies on public key infrastructure.Why is digital signature better than electronic signature? ›
Digital signatures rely on algorithms and encryption to both sign and verify the authenticity of a document. Whereas the purpose of an eSignature is to simply verify a document, a digital signature also effectively secures the document with more security features that protect the document.Is an electronic signature enough? ›
Yes, electronic signatures are valid in all U.S. states and are granted the same legal status as handwritten signatures under state laws. In other industrialized countries, electronic signatures carry the same weight and legal efficiency as handwritten signatures and paper documents.What is a digital signature answers? ›
What is a digital signature? A digital signature—a type of electronic signature—is a mathematical algorithm routinely used to validate the authenticity and integrity of a message (e.g., an email, a credit card transaction, or a digital document).Is digital and electronic the same? ›
When it comes to document management specifically, digital records are representations of physical documents (even if they originated in digital format) whereas electronic records are created solely for use within computer systems. In spite of the differences, the two are often used together.What is digital signature vs electronic signature FDA? ›
Digital signatures include a certificate of authority, to ensure the validity of the signature. Electronic Signature: A computer data compilation of any symbol or series of symbols executed, adopted, or authorized by an individual to be the legally binding equivalent of the individual's handwritten signature.What is the weakness of digital signature? ›
You need to troubleshoot all the compatibility problems. In there are a lot of compatibility settings like an updated version of driver and software. Software is one of the main issues while using a digital signature certificate.What are the disadvantages of electronic signature? ›
- May require advanced technology. Technology is not evenly distributed. ...
- Trust. Many people do not trust technology, so organizations should accommodate wet signatures.
- Resistance to change. People can trust technology and still resist change, which is why wet signatures are still common.
- They're easy to use. ...
- They speed up the pace of business. ...
- They improve document accuracy. ...
- They save time and money. ...
- They enhance customer services. ...
- Some have limited storage options. ...
- Security varies depending on vendor. ...
- Some use proprietary software.
Electronic signatures present unique issues in litigation. For example, an electronic signer can more easily deny that he actually signed the document. And it may be difficult to determine how to lay proper foundation for an electronic signature.
What are the four requirements for an electronic signature to be valid? ›
- Intent to sign. Like traditional signatures, electronic signatures are valid only if each party intends to sign.
- Consent to do business electronically. All parties involved must consent to do business electronically. ...
- Association of signature with the record. ...
- Record retention.
Under the ETA, both electronic signatures and secure electronic signatures are enforceable and admissible. However, in proceedings involving a secure electronic signature, the signature will have the same presumption of enforceability as a “wet signature”.What are the rules of digital signature? ›
The IT Act allows the use of an electronic or digital signature for (i) filing any form, application or document with any government authority; (ii) issue of any license, permit or approval by the government authority; and (iii) receipt or payment of money in a particular manner, in electronic form.What are the two types of digital signature? ›
- Simple. A simple digital signature is a digital signature in its simplest form because it is not protected by any encryption method. ...
- Basic. ...
- Advanced & Qualified.
Examples of electronic documents include emails, digital purchase receipts, and digital images. Digital documents, on the other hand, are more collaborative in nature. Think of digital documents as 'living' files, in that they can be edited, updated, and moved through workplace processes with ease.Does digital have to be electronic? ›
Digital documents are very similar to paper documents. Although a digital document can only be viewed on an electronic device, it pretty much looks the same as it would on a piece of paper. Because of this, even when a company receives a digital document, it's common for it to be printed.Does digital mean electronic? ›
What Does Digital Mean? Digital refers to electronic technology that uses discrete values, generally zero and one, to generate, store and process data.What are the FDA requirements for electronic signature? ›
The FDA allows electronic signatures to be used in place of pen and ink signatures on paper documents so that business can be conducted digitally. In order to be compliant electronic signatures must include: The printed name of the signer. The date and time the signature was executed.Does electronic approval Equal signature? ›
Many countries around the world recognize e-signatures as evidence in a court of law. Certain highly secure, regulated digital signatures with authentication are also often considered equivalent to a traditional handwritten signature in ink.What are the three main purposes of the digital signature? ›
Uses of digital signatures
Digital signatures are used to meet three important goals of information security: integrity, authentication, and non-repudiation.
What is the biggest problem with digital signature? ›
Risk of fraud & reliability – while using a dedicated digital signatory software platform can help solve any authentication issues of the e-signing process, there's still a high risk of signatory forging and fraud for organisations as technology can be compromised or hacked.What are the disadvantages of electronic documents? ›
- Security Risks and Viruses.
- Initial Costs.
- Difficulties Digitalising Existing Documents.
- Software Maintenance.
- Human Inaccuracy.
- Legal and Compliance Issues.
It's called the UETA Act (Uniform Electronic Transactions Act), and establishes that electronic documents and signatures can't be rejected just because they are electronic.Which type of signature is best? ›
Good signatures are ones that are legible and this means it should be straightforward and open. In most cases, most good signatures start with a capital letter before using other names whether full name or initials.Does typing your name count as a signature? ›
While typing your name can count as a legal signature, a business needs to have a way to prove that the individual who typed their name actually signed the document. The ability to defend against repudiation is critical.Is typing your name an electronic signature? ›
One of the most commonly used electronic signatures today is the Text Typed signature; meaning that one has used a keyboard to type their name, with the intent to sign “something”. Although Text Typed is the most common, electronic signatures are not limited to this method.Does federal government accept electronic signatures? ›
Federal legislation enacted in 2000, the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (the E-Sign Law), made electronic signatures and electronic contracts just as legally enforceable as traditional paper contracts signed in ink.What is required to verify a valid digital signature? ›
Signature validity is determined by checking the authenticity of the signature's digital ID certificate status and document integrity: Authenticity verification confirms that the signer's certificate or its parent certificates exist in the validator's list of trusted identities.What are the three types of signature? ›
- Wet signature.
- Electronic signature (E-signature)
- Digital signature.
A digital signature is a mathematical technique used to validate the authenticity and integrity of a message, software or digital document. It's the digital equivalent of a handwritten signature or stamped seal, but it offers far more inherent security.
What are the three levels of electronic signature? ›
The eIDAS Regulation defines three levels of electronic signature: 'simple' electronic signature, advanced electronic signature and qualified electronic signature.What is the alternative to digital signature? ›
Other important factors to consider when researching alternatives to E-Sign include customer service. We have compiled a list of solutions that reviewers voted as the best overall alternatives and competitors to E-Sign, including DocuSign, eversign, Dropbox Sign (formerly HelloSign), and Formstack Sign.Which is the best alternative of digital signature? ›
- Acrobat Sign.
- Zoho Sign.
- OneSpan Sign.
A digital signature is a type of electronic signature that offers more security than a traditional electronic signature. When you sign a document with a digital signature, the signature links a “fingerprint” of the document to your identity.Is DocuSign a digital or electronic signature? ›
DocuSign supports digital signatures to local standards, no matter where you are or what your use case is. Based on our robust eSignature platform, DocuSign Standards-Based Signatures offers easy-to-use solutions that support all levels of digital signatures: Electronic signatures. Advanced Electronic Signatures (AES)What is considered an electronic signature? ›
In the ESIGN Act, an electronic signature is defined as “an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.” In simple terms, electronic signatures are legally recognized as a viable method ...What is the difference between a digital signature and an electronic signature in PDF? ›
An electronic signature is a broad term for any electronic process that indicates acceptance of an agreement or a record. A digital signature refers to a more secure electronic signature that is generated using a digital certificate and cryptographically bound to the document using public key infrastructure (PKI).Is a PDF signature an electronic signature? ›
Electronic signatures, or e-signatures, have the same level of convenience as digital signatures but require less authentication. You can sign a PDF or other document quickly and securely with an e-signature.What has been replaced with electronic signature? ›
Digital signatures have replaced the old ways of signing reports and documents.What is the difference between eSignature and digital signature DocuSign? ›
The e-signature is the legally binding record while the digital signature is the underlying technology that helps verify the authenticity of the transaction.
Is an electronic signature just typing your name? ›
Is a typed signature legally binding? While there may be some questions about enforceability, you should always assume that typing on a signature line inside a contract will count as a legally binding e-signature.Can a digital signature be typed? ›
One of the most commonly used electronic signatures today is the Text Typed signature; meaning that one has used a keyboard to type their name, with the intent to sign “something”. Although Text Typed is the most common, electronic signatures are not limited to this method.What Cannot be signed electronically? ›
The New South Wales Regulations provides that documents that must be or are permitted to be lodged, filed, signed, produced or retained in relation to legal proceedings cannot be signed or executed electronically.
The three main benefits of digital signature include increased contract speed, enhanced security, and lower transaction costs.