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Can Digital Signatures Be Trusted?

by Ayla El Assaad

You can also read this article in German, Spanish, French, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese and Russian.

We’ll take you through the legality of electronic signatures and what security features to keep in mind when using e-signature software.

You’re probably already used to working with files digitally. While electronic documents have become standard, signatures are still most commonly placed by hand, with a pen, on a piece of paper. But this is where we’re seeing a strong shift today. Businesses, institutions, and private people are taking their signing process into the digital playing field. Whether you’re considering to join the movement or have been asked to sign a document electronically yourself, you’re right to have questions. And we’re here to answer them. The most crucial question surrounds the safety and security of online-based signature solutions. Is it safe to use them? Are these signatures legally binding? We’ve put together this guide to help you out, but first ...

How Do We Define a Digital Signature?


An electronic signature or e-signature is a reproduction of your handwritten (also called “wet”) signature on a digital document or file. A digital signature, on the other hand, is a more advanced form of an electronic signature with additional security features. When you digitally sign a document, a unique digital marker, or fingerprint, is generated to authenticate you. An official certification authority usually issues this.

Is a Digital Signature More Secure Than an E-Signature?


In short, yes. Both e-signatures and digital signatures are legally binding—always check your local laws—but a digital signature is more secure. When you digitally sign, a digital market is created, that is unique for you. It can be verified and is very difficult to forge or tamper with. To give you an example of its protective features: When you’ve digitally signed a PDF, a bunch of information is added to the file on the backend. If you open it with any regular PDF reader, you’ll see an option to verify the signature. Let’s say you then upload the digitally signed document to our PDF editor and made changes. Even if you just added a tiny little dot, the digital seal will be broken. Once you open the PDF in your reader again, the validation will fail, showing that the file has been tampered with after signing.

This feature offers you and anyone else involved peace of mind with regards to the authenticity of the file’s contents and signatures.

Security Features of Digital Signatures


Depending on the e-signature software you’re using, you’ll find various security features on offer. Some of the most important things to look out for are TLS encryption, GDPR, and eIDAS compliance. Some solutions, like Smallpdf's eSign tool, also offer real-time timeline activity tracking, email verification, and Long-Term Validation (LTV) timestamping.

Are Digital Signatures Trustworthy?


Absolutely! Digital signatures can be verified and authenticated using any PDF reader, as mentioned above. It’s very difficult to tamper with or forge a digital signature. If you’re looking for secure and easy-to-use electronic and digital signing software, then check out Smallpdf eSign. You can take advantage of our 7-day free trial for access to our Pro features, including timeline activity management and unlimited signees.

Are Digital Signatures Legal?


We’ve touched on this briefly above, but want to expand on this. While generally speaking, digital signatures are legal and can create binding contracts, legislation is too different around the globe to offer you a universal answer. Make sure to check the local laws in your country and state. For instance, some countries generally accept digital signatures, but not regarding documents such as termination of employment. In the US, some select few, very specific types of contracts or agreements still require more than a digital signature. Typically, the more important and impact-rich the signature, the more likely there will be additional requirements for your signature.

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Ayla El Assaad
UX Writer @Smallpdf