A Complete Guide to Digital Signatures

Today’s changing world has led to many technological enhancements, including going paperless. Things that formally needed writing or filing in paper binders can now be handled digitally on computers. This has been all well and good, but the challenge has always been whether paperless documents can match authentication methods such as the good old signature. That’s where digital signatures come in.

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If you handle important online documents and other forms of paperless files, this article would discuss all you need to know about digital signatures.

What Is a Digital Signature?

A digital signature is a unique technical use of an electronic signature. If you need a pen and paper to sign a document, a digital signature utilizes mathematical algorithms and encryptions to sign a document or file. It’s a secure way to ensure the validity of a signer’s identity and the contents of a document.

Whereas a traditional signature only showed the signers’ unique way of writing their name, the digital signature contains information about the signer. A digitally signed document will show who signed the document, when it was signed, and how it looked when it was signed. Basically, a digital signature will show the following:

  • The origin of the document or file.
  • The time the document was signed.
  • A proof that the document hasn’t been altered.
  • Non-repudiation, meaning the sender can’t deny that they’ve signed it.

A digital signature is like a much better version of an envelope seal. A paper document needs to be signed, sealed, and couriered—all of which could take time, especially if you’re sending documents overseas. On the other hand, with a digital signature, the document can be signed and delivered electronically in a few minutes at little or no cost. A digital signature is also fairly easy; you could search how to sign a Google Doc online for a good example.

Why Do You Need a Digital Signature?

Apart from the compelling reasons suggested earlier, there are many benefits to using digital signatures. These include the following:

  • It’s less time-consuming.
  • It’s easy to sign digitally.
  • It’s cheap.
  • It’s secure.
  • It can be used for many file types and software.
  • It’s used for streamlining and improving efficiency.

It’s prudent to note that digital signatures can be used in many institutions and fields, including industries, healthcare, tax authorities, banks, government departments, and e-commerce platforms. Most organizations use digital signatures to streamline their processes and to ensure the security of the files.

A man using digital signature in ipad
by freepik.com

In this fast-paced world, forgeries and other white-collar crimes are on the rise. It’s important to always be ahead of the game by improving the security of your data. With digital files, you’re guaranteed superior protection from unauthorized handling and forgeries. Also, think about the time and money you could save when sending files back and forth for signatures.

Digital Signature vs. Electronic Signature

Although the terms digital signature and electronic signature are often used interchangeably, there’s a difference between the two. You could look at a digital signature as an electronic seal (eSeal). In contrast, an electronic signature is similar to a handwritten paper signature, only that it’s on a screen. Like the paper equivalent, an e-signature is signed by a human being while an eSeal is signed by a legal organization. For example, when a college is sending out diplomas online, they can use a digital signature.

Nonetheless, both the digital signature and the electronic signature prove origin, integrity, time, and non-repudiation. They protect the authenticity of electronic documents and data. Both are incorporated into the Electronic Identification, Authentication and Trust Services (eIDAS), the EU regulation (910/2014) on electronic identification, and the trust services for electronic transactions in the European Single Market.

Why Is a Digital Signature Better Than E-Signature?

A digital signature goes a step further than an e-signature. It’s more than a signature on a screen. It’s an encryption and decryption technology that ensures any data on a signed document is secure and verified for origination and integrity. On the other hand, electronic signatures could have limited or no evidence of the signer’s identity.

For the best signature solution, you could consider technologies based on digital signatures because they identify and verify the signer, location, and integrity of the file. Forging a digital signature could be next to impossible.

Is a Digital Signature Legally Binding?

Digital signatures are legally binding, but this may depend on your state laws and jurisdiction. Some regulations may require a signature to have the highest level of security, trust, and assurance. Therefore, if your local government legislation requirements are met, a digital signature will have the same legal effect and weight as an ink and paper signature.

Most countries have adopted the legislation crafted in the United States and European countries, which follow the eIDAS regulation. Many organizations have also complied with their industry bodies’ digital signature technology regulations like finance and life sciences.

How the Digital Signature Process Works?

Digital signatures use mathematical algorithms for the signing and validation of documents. To be more specific, digital signature platforms are based on Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). A PKI is a framework of encryption and cybersecurity which protects the communication between servers as well as between your website and your client.

The PKI typically provides users with two unique keys, a public one and a private one. When a signer digitally signs a document, a signature is created using the private key. The key encrypts any signature-related data. The only way to decrypt the signed data is with the signer’s public key. With that public key, a recipient of a signed document can authenticate and verify signed documents.

Aignature a contract
by rawpixel.com

To illustrate the explanation above, suppose you digitally sign a financial contract. You’ll receive your private key when you send the document to the bank. When the bank receives your contract, they’ll also receive a copy of the public key. If the public key fails to decrypt your document, it’ll either mean the signature isn’t yours or it has been changed since you signed it. The signature will then be invalidated.

How to Make a Digital Signature

There are many options for signing digital signatures. Depending on the aspects of a digital signature you need, options include basic free apps, subscription platforms, and cloud-based solutions.

When you sign up with a digital signing platform, you’ll be given certificates that prove your organization’s identity when creating signing requests. To create a digital signature on a document, a signature request is created. This is when you prepare a document and send it out for someone to sign it and send it back. When the signing is complete, you’ll receive a status report. You can then safely download the signed document.


Digital signatures are the new way of identifying, authenticating, verifying, and protecting documents online. In this volatile cyberspace where criminals are always lurking, you may do well to protect your documents through this cutting-edge technology.

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