Are Electronic Signatures Safe?
The demand for efficient, secure, and legally accepted document signing in speed-focused businesses has led to the rise of electronic signatures.
The question that resonates with B2B buyers, business owners, managers, and professionals is: Are digital signatures safe, secure, and legally acceptable?
In this post, you’ll learn about the intricacies of electronic signatures, exploring why they are safe and significantly more secure than traditional wet signatures. Plus, we’ll reassure professionals—like you—of why adopting this modern solution for document signing needs is beneficial.
Why an e-signature is more secure than a wet signature
To appreciate the security features of electronic signatures, let's first acknowledge the vulnerabilities of traditional wet signatures.
Traditional signatures are susceptible to forgery and tampering risks, making them prone to fraudulent activities. However, electronic signatures incorporate multiple layers of security, including advanced authentication measures and court-admissible proof of transactions.
The authentication measures embedded in electronic signatures serve as a powerful deterrent against any attempts at forgery or misuse. These measures may include password protection, multi-factor authentication, and identity verification protocols that elevate the security of electronic signatures to new heights.
Additionally, the court-admissible proof of transaction provides a solid legal foundation, ensuring the validity and enforceability of electronically signed documents.
1. Electronic record and audit trail
One of the standout features that distinguishes electronic signatures is the provision of an electronic record that acts as an audit trail for each transaction. This digital fingerprint records every action taken with the document, from its initial opening to the final signature.
The audit trail is accessible to all involved parties. It may include document history, views, signings, and even geolocation tracking for an added layer of security and transparency.
This audit trail is a game-changer in dispute resolution. The audit trail becomes invaluable if a signer disputes their signature or questions arise about the transaction. It provides an indisputable account of every action taken with the document, instilling confidence in the authenticity and integrity of the electronic signature.
2. Certificates of completion
Accompanying electronic signatures are detailed certificates of completion that contribute to transparency and accountability in the signing process.
These certificates provide a comprehensive snapshot of each signer's involvement, including the consumer disclosure indicating their agreement to use electronic signatures, signature images, key event timestamps, and identifying information.
These detailed certificates not only enhance the overall integrity of the signing process but also act as a tangible record of the signer's intent and agreement. This documentation strengthens the legality and validity of electronically signed documents.
3. Tamper-evident seal
After signing, certain e-signature providers employ a tamper-evident seal, utilizing Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) – an industry-standard technology.
This seal serves as a digital imprint, indicating the validity of the electronic signature and ensuring that the document hasn't been tampered with or altered since the date of signing.
The tamper-evident seal is crucial in maintaining the integrity of electronically signed documents. It acts as a virtual seal of approval, assuring all parties involved that the document is in its original state and has undergone no unauthorized changes post-signing.
How electronic signatures work
Understanding the process of electronic signatures is vital for realizing their security benefits. The signing process involves several steps, ensuring a straightforward and secure experience for both the sender and the recipient.
It begins with uploading a Word or PDF document. The sender tags the sections that require specific actions, such as initials, signatures, or additional information. The sender then selects signer authentication methods, such as email address verification, phone call verification, SMS authentication, or even knowledge-based questions.
Once these parameters are set, the document is sent via the e-signature service to the designated recipient's email. The recipient undergoes a series of steps to ensure their identity before proceeding with the signature. This can involve reading and agreeing to disclosure documents, reviewing the document's content, and completing any necessary fields.
The signing process is initiated by the recipient clicking the signature button or applying an e-signature mark. Once all designated recipients have signed the document, notifications are sent, and the record is securely stored electronically.
This entire process is facilitated and safeguarded by the built-in security features of electronic signature providers.
Methods of verifying signer identity
Electronic signature technology offers many options for verifying a signer's identity:
- Email address: Signers enter their email address compared to the email address used in the invitation.
- Phone call: Signers must call a phone number and enter their name and access code.
- SMS: Signers must enter a one-time passcode sent via SMS text message.
- Knowledge-based questions: Signers are asked personal questions gathered from commercially available databases, such as past addresses or vehicles owned.
- Photo ID upload: Signers are verified using government-issued photo IDs such as a passport, driver's license, or residence permit.
- Electronic or bank-based IDs: Signers can submit their login credentials for existing or government accounts to prove their identity.
For situations where additional levels of signature validity are necessary, some providers offer two other levels of e-signatures that comply with the European Union’s (EU) eIDAS requirements:
- Advanced: Requires a higher level of security, identity verification, and authentication to establish a link to the signatory. It includes a certificate-based digital ID (X.509 PKI) from a trusted service provider.
- Qualified: An even more secure version of an advanced e-signature that utilizes a "secure signature creation device" and is deemed a legal equivalent to a wet signature in the EU.
These diverse verification methods ensure that the signing parties are authentic, mitigating the risk of unauthorized access and ensuring the integrity of the electronic signature.
Security-first approach to e-signatures
The security of electronic signatures isn't universal and varies by provider. Therefore, choosing an e-signature platform with a security-first approach is crucial. This approach encompasses three key aspects:
- Physical security: Protects the systems and buildings where the electronic signature systems reside. This includes geo-dispersed data centers with active and redundant systems, commercial-grade firewalls, and strict physical access controls with monitored video surveillance.
- Platform security: Safeguards the data and processes stored in the electronic signature systems. This involves data encryption in transit and at rest, secure data access and transfer protocols, and using Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) for web-based authentication and authorization.
- Security certifications/Processes: Ensure the provider's employees and partners follow best practices for security and privacy. This includes compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and industry standards governing digital transactions and electronic signatures. Key certifications such as ISO 27001:2013, SOC 1 Type 2 and SOC 2 Type 2, PCI DSS, and adherence to the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) Security Trust Assurance and Risk (STAR) program indicate a provider's commitment to security.
These security measures collectively contribute to the safety and reliability of electronic signatures, providing users with the confidence that their sensitive information is protected throughout the signing process.
Can you use electronic signatures for critical documents?
The all-important question—”are electronic signatures safe?"—can be answered with a big yes!
Electronic signatures address the concerns related to digital signature risks and surpass the security provided by traditional wet signatures. As businesses traverse the digital landscape, embracing electronic signatures isn't merely a modern convenience but a secure and legally sound solution.
With advanced security features—from authentication measures to tamper-evident seals—professionals can confidently sign documents, knowing that the integrity of their agreements is safeguarded, forever.