Cutting operational costs, moving to greener methods and even regulatory compliance are all factors driving the move away from paper records and other documents and towards secure electronic equivalents. A leading part of more “secure” electronic equivalents is the digital signature. While Europe has seen a steady increase, the United States is slowly adopting digital signatures as more organizations move from paper shuffling to more efficient online processes.
When talking about “signing” an electronic document, for example, a PDF, it’s important to note that a digital signature is far more than an electronic representation of your authorization. In fact, a digital signature is a mathematical scheme for demonstrating the authenticity of a digital document. Digital signatures can assure that information has not been altered, as well as verify the signer’s digital identity.
“Digital signatures give an electronic document the same status, in lawsuits for example, as paper documents signed by person,” says Olaf Druemmer, Managing Director of callas software GmbH. “They also offer ‘traceability’ or who agreed to what and when.” Adding PDF/A (the archival version of the PDF standard) to the mix ensures that the document will appear the same in the future even as the digital signature ensures that any modifications to the document can be detected, says Dietrich von Seggern, Business Development Manager of callas software GmbH.
“Because reliability and integrity are both important in document processing and archiving, it very much makes sense to combine both.” Druemmer says that digital signatures can be used for time stamping, to document when and how a paper document was scanned to PDF/A. Also, it offers “close to legal proof” quality of a document through signing scanned documents to testify they reflect the paper document, which then may be destroyed after scanning, especially in the social security and health sector. “Today, a major area of use of signatures is in internal procedures of larger companies to support proper record management, auditing and so forth,” adds Druemmer.
More organizations–particularly in Europe–are embracing digital signatures as they move away from paper documents with ink signatures or authenticity measures. The European Union as a whole recognized digital signatures on December 13, 1999 when the European Parliament issued Directive 1999/93/EC, a framework for electronic signatures and a mandate for the legal weight that electronic signatures should carry in EU member countries. It was followed in 2009 by a multi-part standard for EU compliant digital signatures that includes an emphasis on interoperability, archivability and long term validation.
The U.S. is also embracing digital signatures. In 1995, Utah was the first U.S. State to enact Digital Signature legislation followed by California. Since then every state has adopted some form of Digital Signature legislation. The United States Government Printing Office (GPO) publishes a large number of electronic documents, many authenticated by digital signatures, including the Code of Federal Regulations, a compilation of Presidential documents, Congressional Bills, Hearings and Records, Public and Private Laws, Economic Indicators and much more.
Whether in government or for private organizations, an authentic digital signature provides a digital document with the same credibility as a hand-signed paper document. This allows groups to be more efficient in their contracts and other communications, particularly when communicating with colleagues in other countries.
Digital signatures are used in all kinds of document-driven business processes, says Michael Karbe, President of Actino Software in Germany. “It’s the only way to guarantee the integrity and authenticity of a document.”
Appligent Document Solutions offers one of the leading digital signature products in the industry. SecurSign 5 is a server-based application that encrypts, digitally signs and verifies digital signatures on PDF documents. It is designed to run in real time with other processes in an unattended environment to handle high-volume and on-demand production needs. SecurSign can also run in batch mode to encrypt, digitally sign or verify large collections of PDF documents.