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Electronic signatures

Why were electronic signatures created? How did technology get developed? Read more about the story and purpose behind eSignatures

What is an Electronic Signature?

We all recognize that a classic signature simply is a handwritten representation of a person's name and/or title. The legal purpose of a signature serves to verify a person's identity, and it constitutes proof of consent, contractual status, and endorsement of the information contained in a document. An electronic signature does exactly the same. It is an electronic indication of a person's intent to accept the content of a document or a collection of data linked to the signature.


What is the difference between an electronic signature and digital signatures? 

Electronic signatures are often mistaken to be the same as digital signatures, but there is a very important difference. 

An eSignature can be as simple as a typed name, initials, or a scanned handwritten signature which is then added to the document. The downfall of eSignatures is that there are not very stringent regulations of how they should be implemented and the security behind them is completely dependent on the choice of e-signature vendor.

Moreover, a document signed with an eSignature is not guaranteed to be sealed and tamper-proof. Often you need to get this verified by the vendor providing the signature service. This means that your electronically signed documents may not be universally secure. Forrester Research suggests that a good stress test to evaluate eSignature vendors is to imagine that the vendor disappears and see what evidence you have to support your case in court.

However, when an eSignatures combined with a digital signature, you get a signed document which is tamper-proof; giving you visibility into any changes that may have been made to the document after signing. The digital signature uses a unique fingerprint that creates a certificate for the document at the time of signing and this is permanently embedded into the file. This makes it vendor-independent and totally tamper-proof.


The history of electronic signature 

Most people are under a false impression that signing documents digitally is something totally new. The truth is that digital signatures have been around for decades but have only become more popular only in recent years. Today, electronic signatures are well established and are considered the most reliable way of getting documents signed digitally. 


Some historic milestones

  • 1976: Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman were the first to describe the idea of a digital signature, but it was only in theory that such a system existed
  • 1977:Ronald Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Len Adleman invented the RSA algorithm that would be used to create primitive digital signatures
  • 1988: Lotus Notes 1.0, which used RSA algorithms, became the first widely marketed software that could offer digital signatures
  • 1999:The possibility of embedding digital signatures on documents is added to files in the PDF format
  • 2000:Through the so-called, The ESIGN law, digital signatures become legally binding
  • 2008: PDF format becomes an open standard within the "International Organization for Standardization" (ISO) and termed as ISO 32000 - the standard contains the digital signature as part of the format
  • 2015:GetAccept is founded with the vision of becoming a world leader in eSigning and helping companies implement it as a standard for all their business transactions
  • 2016:> eIDAS (electronic IDentification, Authentication, and trust Services) EU regulation on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions that applies as law within the whole of the EU.


Electronic signature - the most reliable signing method

The electronic signature is well established today and is considered the most reliable way to get documents digitally signed. Unlike signatures in the past, today's electronic signatures are easy to use and can be created on any digital device.

Compared to robust electronic signatures, a handwritten signature has no advantage in cases disputing the validity of a signed document. A traditional handwritten signature does not capture the actual moment of the signature, which is of great importance in the event of a dispute. When you use eSigning, the signature is captured and logged with the help of a timestamp. A complete and fully automated history of all actions is saved and linked to the document. All the information that has been collected is then sealed so that it cannot be manipulated.


Electronic IDentification, Authentication, and Trust Services (eIDAS)

eIDAS is an EU regulation on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions that applies as law within the whole of the EU. The goal of the eIDAS regulation, which began to take effect in 2016, is to facilitate the smooth flow of commerce in the EU through transparency, security, technical neutrality, cooperation, and interoperability. Read more about eIDAS and the different levels of electronic signatures here.