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Electronic Signature vs. Digital Signature – What Is the Difference?

What is an electronic signature? What is a digital signature? And what is the difference between the two? Are they the same thing, are they two completely different things, or is there a link?

We get it, it can be hard to wrap one’s head around this, especially when there are so many terms floating around on this topic. But luckily, we are about to answer the questions you might possibly have about electronic and digital signatures.

The terms electronic and digital signature are often used interchangeably, especially in spaces where they may not understand or care about the nuance. The term eSigning can also refer to adding either of the two types of signature to a document. But there is a difference when it comes to the security, verifiability, and legality of your signature.

What is an electronic signature?

In the EU, the eIDAS Article 3 defines electronic signature as “any data in electronic form which is attached to or logically associated with other data in electronic form and which is used by the signatory to sign”.

Similarly, under the ESIGN Act USA, electronic signature is defined as “an electronic sound, symbol or process that is attached to or logically associated with a record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.”

In other words, almost anything can be considered an electronic signature, as long as it is in an electronic form and is used with intent.

Of course, not all electronic signatures are this simple. Many have various levels of security attached to them, such as email or phone number verification to link the signature to the identity of the signatory.

Electronic signatures are recognized by law in most countries, but their authenticity, as well as the intent to sign, can be difficult to prove in court.

What is a digital signature?

The term digital signature is reserved for a specific subset of electronic signatures that uses a personal or commercial certificate-based digital ID issued by a Trust Service Provider (TSP) so when someone signs a document, the signature is uniquely linked to their identity and bound to the document with encryption.

The signature can also be verified using an underlying technology known as Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).

Digital signatures are typically (depending on local laws and the type of identity verification employed) considered equivalent to handwritten signatures and have the same legal standing.

Where are the differences?

Simply put, all digital signatures are also electronic signatures, but not all electronic signatures are digital. The differentiating factor is then is the presence (or absence) of the aforementioned electronic certificate.

The certificate is what “seals” the document and what makes the signature recognizable as a digital signature but contrary to what we may intuitively think, the simple presence of a certificate doesn’t automatically mean that the document is is authentic and can be trusted.

Electronic certificates for digital signatures can act as extremely valuable proof of document authenticity and integrity, but they can also be self-issued by anyone who knows how to do so, rendering them virtually useless. That is why to ensure a certificate is unique, official, and non-duplicable, it must be issued by a recognized certification authority (CA).

Considering all the above important reasons as to why digital signature should be used in corporate businesses, why not get the right signature for your business today? This will make the running of your business much easier.

If you are planning to establish a digital signature solution within your organization, please feel free to get in touch with our domain experts for a deep dive into the new capabilities that a digital signature solution can offer.

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