From withdrawing cash in a bank to closing a deal, there’s one thing in common. We need to sign some document or contract as a form of authentication. But just like a lot of things are digital these days, the same applies to our signatures. We all have at least heard about, if not used in person, digital and electronic signatures, and most people often get confused between these terms, while others use the terms interchangeably.
However, digital and electronic signatures are different deep down in the core, not just technically, but also in the way they authenticate documents or other electronic and digital entities.
So, today in this story on How2shout, I will talk about the differences between digital signatures and electronic signatures, so that you never get confused between the terms ever in the future.
So, without any further delay, let’s get started with the differences between digital and electronic signatures.
What is an electronic signature?
An electronic signature is a form of signature where the parties involved intend to sign an electronic copy of a document or contract electronically instead of printing it, signing it, and hence scanning the signed copy of the document.
Let me explain it in simple words. If you have a document or contact in an electronic format, say a Microsoft Word document or a PDF file, and your markup the document with your signature, then it is an electronic signature on the document. You can markup the document in several ways, like scribing your signature on the document with your mouse, using a scanned copy of your signature, and in several other ways.
Electronic signatures are not just limited to documents or contracts, but these signatures can also be placed visibly on a picture, like the artist’s signature on digital art, or even in a voice note.
Well, that’s the basic explanation of an electronic signature.
What is a digital signature?
A digital signature is not a regular signature that is visibly present in a document, however, it is a sort of code that is embedded into the document by the parties involved in signing the document. Once digitally signed, when the document is modified thereafter, the signature will no longer be valid, and hence the whole document will be deemed forged and invalid.
To explain it further, let’s say you have a document, and you want to digitally sign in. To sign the document digitally, you need to acquire a private key from a Certificate Authority or CA. Hence the document that is to be signed is passed through a function that generates a hash of some fixed length, irrespective of the size of the document. This hash value is hence encrypted with the sender’s private key, and now the document is considered digitally signed by the sender.
In the next step, the digitally signed document is sent to the recipient along with the sender’s public key which is also generated by the CA. If the document can’t be decrypted with the public key provided by the sender, it means the document has been tampered with, and hence the digital signature is no longer valid.
So, in the case of digital signatures, there’s another entity called the CA that manages the public key infrastructure or PKI, which validates the identity of individuals or parties to which digital signatures are issued, along with the policies and standards that are involved in the whole process.
Differences between electronic and digital signatures in other aspects
Now that you know the basic differences between an electronic and digital signature, let’s look at a few more aspects of the two different signature types so that you have a better idea of both.
No matter what type of signature, it is always used to authenticate a document or contract. When it comes to electronic signatures, it is the digital version of your regular signature. However, unlike a piece of paper that has something written on it as is signed, changing the document contents will involve striking through some lines, using whiteners, etc. that again need to be signed to validate the changes.
But modifying an electronic document doesn’t involve such hassles, no matter whether you have scribed your signature at the bottom of the document. If someone adds, deletes, or modifies the content, there’s no way you can disregard the changes and the document as a whole, as it has been undersigned electronically by you.
On the other hand, in the case of a digital signature, as I already discussed, it is impossible to forge a document, as the forged document has a different hash compared to the original one. So, documents that are signed digitally are more secure as they are hard to tamper with, compared to those that are electronically signed.
Signing a document electronically is super easy. You just need to use your mouse or any other pointing or drawing device to sign. If you have a copy of the electronic signature ready on your system, you can also insert your signature and hence email the document or contract. In this case, there is a document in electronic format, and you have to send the document with your signature, it involves printing the document, signing it, and scanning it again. However, you can replace all these steps with one simple electronic signature.
Digitally signing a document involves getting a signature from a certificate authority, hashing the document and then encrypting the hash with your private key, and then sending the document along with the public key. While the steps are many, several platforms like Zoho Sign, and DocuSign make the process easier for the end-user. That might reduce the number of steps involved, but you still need to depend on another authority for the safekeeping of the keys, which can be a little complex, for an individual, if not for an organization.
Legal binding or legal acceptance
In the case of an electronic signature, you are simply signing the document using the digital replica of your actual signature, and hence it has the same level of legal acceptance as regular signatures done by an individual or an entity.
In the case of a digital signature, there’s no actual signature present in the document, and hence the legal acceptance can be felt questionable by certain signatories. Digital signatures are accepted by countries, however, there are conditions imposed by several US states. Talking about our country, digital signatures are legally accepted in India, under certain circumstances. The basic condition is, if there is a change in the document after being signed, that must be detectable. There should be an audit trail that should record the steps while the signing process is being carried out. Lastly, the certificate issued to the signatory should be issued only by those Certificate Authorities that are recognized by the Controller of Certifying Authorities under the Indian Income Tax or IT Act.
Hope you now have a clear idea of the differences between electronic and digital signatures. To be more precise digital signatures are a sophisticated version of regular electronic signatures with several additional security features. Do you have any questions regarding the topic? Feel free to comment on the same below.