What is an electronic signature?​

This article aims to clarify and give a brief overview of what is behind the term electronic signature. Although this term is becoming more and more common, the ideas of what it means differ widely.

However, it often happens that many people do not know what an electronic signature actually is. This article is intended to remedy this situation. It will also look at what such a signature, PDF documents, companies, contracts, regulations and certificates have in common and whether digital signatures are a sensible solution. Let’s start with the basics:

What is meant by an electronic signature?

An electronic signature is a digital code used to authenticate electronic documents. With this signature, the identity of the sender as well as the integrity of the document can be verified. Unlike a handwritten signature, an electronic signature can be easily verified and authenticated. This means that everywhere in the industries where there are use cases for analogue signatures, they can be replaced by an e-signature solution. This includes, for example, contracts of all kinds, administrative documents and permits. This is contrasted with the digital signature. The differences between the two signatures are explained in more detail in the article “Difference between electronic and digital signature”. This article also focuses on the principles of electronic signatures. Now that we have clarified the definition, let’s move on to the functional aspect:

How does an electronic signature actually work?

Signatures are needed to sign contracts. In the past, these were always done in writing, which is now considered obsolete.

Many documents, contracts and certificates are now sent by e-mail and/or can be retrieved as PDF documents. So business processes are subject to further digitisation and thus offer good framework conditions for integrating the electronic signature. In order to continue the digitisation and not interrupt the workflow for the team, electronic signatures offer themselves as part of the solution. These are based on a specific software or tool that simplifies the signing of the various documents. For this purpose, the documents are uploaded and the digital signature is signed on the document by the business partners. In this way, the status of the signatures of the partners involved in the document can be practically overviewed without further assistance, which also simplifies navigation through the pages of the document.

Technically, the data is subject to encryption in order to protect the data-related information and make it inaccessible to third parties. Nevertheless, no login is necessary for the signatories, only for the issuer, for which at least an e-mail address is required. This makes signing child’s play for all partners. Only there are different processes and authorisations that can initiate or confirm a signature, each of which requires different security aspects again. This automatically leads to the following question:

Are there different types of electronic signature?

To cut a long story short: Yes, there are. So there are different types of electronic signatures, including the simple electronic signature, the “advanced electronic signature” (FES) and finally the “qualified electronic signature” (QES). Each of these has a certain level of authentication and the definition of security by legal regulations. Different sectors and documents therefore require different electronic signatures. But more on this topic in one of the next articles. This is far from exhausting the possibilities of electronic signatures, so:

What potential do electronic signatures still offer?

In addition to signing, other solutions are also emerging for companies that cover other topics as a side effect. This form of signature thus makes communication much easier, but it also requires trust and thus trust services to make all transactions secure for all partners. Processes can thus be further simplified. The flow of information is also improved, which is of course valuable for employees and thus for time management.

The time gained by the employees can be better used for other tasks, such as service and support. The possibilities are therefore very versatile and far from exhausted, as electronic signatures are still in their infancy. However, it will still take some time before they can exploit their full potential.

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