What Is a Digital Signature and how to create one?

Published on 07/08/2020 by Sonia Navarrete

Digital signatures have been around for some time but they have been recently coming into their own. Many companies, both large and small, have discovered just how convenient digital signature software can be for all sorts of reasons, including signing off on reports, putting a digital name to a contract and even for crucial business procurement. 

what is a digital signature and how to create one

Read on to find out what using one entails, how you can go about creating a digital signature for your enterprise and which digital signature software will help you to do so.

The use of digital signatures in a socially distanced world

The global pandemic has changed the way that some enterprises do business forever. Even when social distancing restrictions are relaxed, many firms will find that they keep doing business as they do at the moment. 

Of course, face-to-face interactions will still need to occur for certain aspects of commerce but, increasingly, they won’t be needed for signatures.

This is because the use of digital signatures, electronic signatures and digital id is now much more widespread than ever before due to the change in working lives that many people have gone through.

For example, in Canada a bill was passed to allow an electronic signature to be used in many situations in place of a written signature. 

In much of the UK, the legal status of digital signatures has received a boost from the Law Commission. Only very specific examples of certain types of documents – such as those connected to the Land Registry, for example – need to be signed in person. For everyday commerce and transactions, digital signatures are considered just as good as in-person ones.

Clearly, this has been advantageous for many enterprises needing to sign off on documents or to provide authentication with a digital id for their procurements and orders. 

Keeping people apart from one another has been the driver behind the uptake in digital signatures. However, since electronic communication is virtually instantaneous, many SMEs and even larger corporations have realised that using a digital signature instead of manually signing physical paperwork saves a lot of time, travel and effort. 

In other words, they offer a boost to business efficiency and few organisations will turn back from their use even when social distancing comes to an end.

How do digital signatures work?

As mentioned, digital signatures are electronic versions of a handwritten signature. They serve the same purpose in the digital realm for authenticating an authorised signatory and certificate authority, ensuring the signature is correct even when they are not kept as a pdf file or word document.

 Indeed, digital signatures ensure more efficient workflows for processes such as client sign-ups because no paperwork needs to be printed or posted.

They can be added to point-of-use sections (with a signature field or a signature line) on forms or contracts and even automated to make them simpler to use when multiple signatures might be required, for example.

In addition, some software systems that provide digital signature services will create logs for when and by whom a document was signed. 

They can also ensure contracts are correctly signed off by ensuring the signature(s) always appear in the appropriate spaces within documents. 

Digital verification methods can also be employed to ensure that the e-signature that is used is from the authorised person, the signer, a key anti-fraud protection that is worth knowing about.

Various authenticating systems are in use with modern digital signature technology. These might rely on e-mail verifications or two-factor authentication with a pin code sent to a mobile phone as well as geolocation data being used. 

Some mobile digital signature apps make use of a PDF document which is generated automatically from real paperwork that a signer can then add its signature to digitally.

This is excellent for dispersed workforces or when contractual arrangements need to be resolved in the field.

Nowadays, very advanced cryptographic methods are used to keep digital signatures private and beyond prying eyes.

Some use Bluetooth devices to ensure that a signer is the person they claim to be when signing a document, helping to identify them even if no other party is present. 

Furthermore, blockchains are also now widely utilised so that it is possible to verify when and how a document is signed so that it can’t be inappropriately back-dated, for example.

But how do I create my own digital signature?

Even for large companies – let alone SMEs – creating your own proprietary digital signature software is likely to be far too expensive and time-consuming, especially when you consider all of the relevant security measures that ought to be taken into account. 

Thankfully, there are plenty of high-quality digital signature software packages around specifically developed as turnkey solutions for enterprises that want to take advantage of them.

Of course, choosing which e-signature app will be best for your organisation is another question. Helpfully, the Capterra digital signature software guide contains a list of all of the relevant software packages with ratings for each one. 

Here, you will find e signature software packages such as DocuSign, PandaDoc or eFileCabinet (*see note at the bottom of the article) among others. Whether you want an app that is appropriate for legal documentation within a certain jurisdiction, a cloud-based app or one that offers customisation options, you will find it here.

Bear in mind that not all businesses will have the same requirements when adopting a digital signature software system. Some will only need a few e-signatories within the enterprise while others in the business-to-consumer sector may need to handle multiple digital signatures from the public every hour of the day. 

The packages on offer cater for all sorts of business needs with pricing structures to match.

Look out for those with free trial periods if you are not yet sure how you will use this technology since it allows you to try them out before committing.

Looking for Digital Signature Software? Check our catalogue

*Note: The software selected in this article is chosen by the following criteria:

  • The highest number of reviews on Capterra.co.uk
  • Rated 4+ on Capterra.co.uk
  • Highest search volume in the UK 

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.