Here’s how online signature tools protect against signature forgery

Digital transactions and remote collaborations rule today’s world, causing the reliance on online signature tools to surge faster than a leaky pen on a white blouse. Just as the pocket protector was invented to protect such mishaps, online tools exist today to protect against the threat of signature forgery. 

These sophisticated mechanisms are being employed by online signature platforms to guard against bad actors, thwart forgery attempts and ensure the integrity of digital transactions.

woman working at a computer

Authentication protocols

You can be anyone you want to be on the Internet—except when you’re called upon to prove it.

Electronic signature platforms implement various authentication protocols to confirm the identity of individuals signing documents. These protocols, designed to prevent unauthorized access and protect against fraud, could be why 83% of e-signature users consider digital signatures to be more secure than their hardcopy counterparts.

Protocols range from basic forms of authentication like usernames and passwords and multifactor authentication to biometric authentication and smart tokens.

Some advanced signature tools leverage biometric data, such as fingerprints or facial recognition, to authenticate the identity of signatories. Biometric verification adds an extra layer of security by tying the signature to unique physical characteristics.

Smart cards and security tokens, meanwhile, are physical devices that users possess and use to authenticate their identity. These devices generate one-time passwords or cryptographic keys, adding an extra layer of security.

Other tactics to prove a user is who they say they are include knowledge-based authentication, where users are asked questions based on personal information, and SMS or email verification. Behavioral biometrics are even more watertight, analyzing unique patterns in how users interact, such as typing speed or touchscreen gestures, for continuous authentication during a signing session.

Some platforms allow users to sign in using their social media credentials. While convenient, this method relies on the security of the social media account and may not be suitable for highly sensitive documents.

BlueInk screengrab of audit trail graphic

Audit trails

Forget paper trails. Modern day electronic tracking systems are much more savvy, and efficient, at keeping tabs on the lifecycle of a document and, thus, confirming its authenticity. Online signature tools generate detailed audit trails that record every step of the signing process. 

Audit trails play a crucial role in preventing e-signature fraud by providing a transparent and traceable record of electronic transactions.  They track every step of the e-signature process, including who initiated the signature, when it occurred, and the details of the transaction.

These measures also keep track of document versions and any changes made during the e-signature process. This helps in detecting any unauthorized modifications or tampering with the document. 

Every action within the e-signature process is timestamped, providing a chronological order of events. This makes it difficult for fraudsters to manipulate the timing of signatures or other actions.

As an extra layer of precaution, they often include information about user authentication methods, such as username, IP address, and timestamp. This helps ensure that the person initiating the e-signature is the authorized user.

The efforts don’t end once a document is signed and finalized. 

Audit trails are securely stored and can be accessed for review and verification purposes. This ensures that a reliable record exists in case of any disputes or legal challenges related to the e-signed document. 

They're often backed by robust security measures, including encryption, to protect the integrity and confidentiality of the information. This prevents unauthorized access to the audit trail itself.

By implementing a robust audit trail system, electronic signature providers are enhancing the security and reliability of their e-signature processes, making it more challenging for malicious actors to engage in fraudulent activities.

BlueInk screengrab of electronic signature

Tamper detection

Some of us might remember forging a parent’s signature to fake a sick day or hide a bad grade. Such antics might have passed muster back in the day, but that’s no longer the case.

Tamper detection in the context of e-signatures involves implementing measures to detect and prevent any unauthorized changes or alterations to a signed document. It plays a crucial role in ensuring the integrity and authenticity of electronic signatures, helping to prevent fraud. 

One way it does so is through something called hashing algorithms. When a document is electronically signed, a unique digital fingerprint, known as a hash, is generated using a cryptographic hashing algorithm. The hash is a fixed-length string of characters that is unique to the content of the document. Even a minor change in the document would result in a completely different hash.

Digital signatures, which electronic signatures often use, are another way to lock out fraudsters. This approach involves the use of private and public key pairs.

The signer's private key is used to create the digital signature, and the recipient can use the signer's public key to verify the signature. Any alteration to the document after signing would invalidate the digital signature, alerting both parties to potential tampering.

Then we have document encryption. E-signature solutions employ robust encryption methods to protect the content of documents during transmission and storage, safeguarding them from potential interception. This ensures that only authorized parties with the appropriate decryption keys can access and modify the document.

By combining these techniques, e-signature platforms establish a rocksolid framework for tamper detection, helping to maintain the integrity of electronically signed documents and prevent fraud.

Image of computer screen with word “security”

Permission controls

May I have permission to forge your signature? No, you may not. 

Online signature tools often allow document owners to set specific permissions for each user. 

Permission controls are crucial in preventing electronic signature forgery by ensuring that only authorized individuals have the right to sign or modify specific documents. They often begin with strong authentication processes, such as those listed above, to verify the identity of the person attempting to sign a document.

Since different individuals within an organization may have different roles and responsibilities, permission controls are set up based on these roles, ensuring that only individuals with the appropriate authorization can access, sign, or modify specific types of documents.

Electronic signature platforms often include workflow controls that define the sequence of actions required for a document to be properly signed and approved. Permission controls within these workflows dictate which individuals are allowed to take specific actions, such as initiating the signing process or approving a signed document.

Some systems allow administrators to set time-based permissions, where access rights expire after a certain period. This prevents individuals from having indefinite access to a document and reduces the risk of unauthorized signatures occurring in the future.

As well, electronic signature systems often integrate with identity management solutions to ensure that permissions align with the organization's overall user access policies.

By implementing such permission controls, electronic signature solutions help prevent forgery by tightly regulating access to documents and actions, ensuring that only authorized individuals can participate in the signing process.

Lawyers discuss issue in front of computer

Compliance with legal standards

E-signatures adhere to legal frameworks and standards, such as the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (ESIGN) Act and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). 

Compliance standards often mandate strong authentication measures to verify the identity of individuals involved in the e-signing process. Robust authentication methods, such as multi-factor authentication and biometric verification, help ensure that only authorized individuals can sign documents, reducing the risk of forgery.

Compliance also plays a crucial role in keeping e-signatures safe by establishing a legal framework and standards that govern the use of electronic signatures. It ensures that e-signatures hold the same legal weight as traditional signatures, providing a secure and recognized method for conducting business.

By adhering to compliance measures, organizations can establish a secure environment for e-signatures, making it significantly more challenging for malicious actors to engage in forgery. These measures collectively contribute to the prevention, detection, and deterrence of e-signature forgery, ensuring the reliability and trustworthiness of electronic transactions.

Making the right choice

When selecting an electronic signature provider, it’s important to recognize that not all come equipped with the same level of security features.

Platforms like BlueInk offer multi-layered identification–including ID, selfies and SMS pins—which are all tracked in an audit trail and a cryptographically secured certificate of evidence.

Organizations are increasingly recognizing the role electronic signature platforms can play in keeping sensitive documents secure.  One DocuSign study found that 40% of surveyed organizations are using e-signatures for increased security. That’s because unlike wet signatures that can be easily forged, erased or tampered with, many e-signature platforms have safeguards to prevent that from happening.

Learn more about why electronic signatures are considered safer and more reliable than wet signatures.


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