Electronic signature: what is it and why should I use it?

Electronic signature

Electronic signature is a new and very useful technology. Learn more about it and find out how it can make your life much easier!

Discovering that the term “electronic signature” (or “e-sign”) exists can be a bit shocking.

If you have already been handling paperwork for a while, you’ve got very used to signing papers by hand, and also adding your initials to every page in contracts.

Not too long ago having a stylish signature was the norm.

When nearing adulthood, people would take the time to create a unique signature and practice writing it down until it became second nature.

This practice seems to be fading out, but many people still adhere to it, especially from older generations.

So, is this new technology going make even written signatures go away? Let’s find out.

What exactly does “electronic signature” mean?

Electronically signing a document means adding information to its electronic version (that is, a PDF) that guarantees that the people who were supposed to sign were really the ones who signed it.

Speaking more technically, this means that an organization inserts some data into the file for you that shows that you read and agreed to what was written.

And that signature can be traced back to you in order to prove you were the one signing it.

An electronic signature can be made in many ways.

For example, it can use cryptography, inserting a code created from the person’s private key. The person’s public key can then be used to verify the signature.

This is similar to how blockchains work, for example.

This method is called “digital signature”.

It’s also possible to use “biometric signatures”.

Biometric information such as fingerprints and iris patterns can be used to sign the document, linking it directly to the person who signed.

Does this mean that written signatures are dying?

Not necessarily.

Even though you can verify a signature with just a code, written signatures are still an iconic part of documents and these documents are still being created with them in mind.

Depending on the service that you’re using to e-sign, you also have the option of adding a scan of your signature and initials to the document.

And you also have to do the work of initialing every page and adding the signature yourself (although now you do that just by clicking on the screen).

Some services also give you the option of doing all the signing yourself.

You can do that by writing it on your computer screen (if it has touch support), your phone, tablet, or even a graphics tablet if you have one.

Of course, doing that with your finger can be pretty hard, so you should consider getting a good pen to do that too.

Why should I use electronic signatures?

Electronic signing shines when you are doing business over large distances.

For example, if you’re signing a contract with a company that works in another state or even another country.

When everyone involved is nearby, it’s pretty easy to just go somewhere, sign the documents, maybe validate it at a local notary, and go back home.

But in our interconnected world…

If one of the parties lives far away from you, thing get a bit awkward.

It would be courteous and interesting to discuss things in person, but sometimes that is not possible.

Maybe you don’t have the money to make the trip, or maybe you don’t have the time.

And sending a contract by mail back and forth is also a bit awkward.

Nowadays we have broadband internet and very fast computers, so a lot of things can be done from afar.

Allowing the use of electronic signatures is just the next logical step, and it makes everything much faster and easier.

Some examples of uses

E-signing documents is specially useful when:

  • You are selling books in other countries;
  • You are licensing products and brands to other companies;
  • You are a freelance service provider;
  • Among others.

Is e-signing safe?

Yes, it is!

By using a digital signature, you make it impossible to sign a document without having your private key.

So, if you keep your passwords safe, you have nothing to worry about.

It’s also tamper proof, as the code used depends on the state of the document when it was signed.

Some services also allow you to use a physical device, like a SIM card or USB stick, that you can carry with you and use when necessary.

This way, your private key isn’t stored in a database, so it’s also hack-proof (provided you can store the device safely, of course).

While people often think that written signatures are safer, it’s important to remember that forgery of signatures is a thing, and can also cause many problems.

Forgery is also a problem for biometric signatures, as there are a number of methods you can use to get someone’s fingerprint or even trick biometric scans to pretend that you are someone else.

Are electronic signatures legal?

Yes, they are! They’re recognized and regulated by many countries already, each with their own regulation.

In the US, it’s the Digital Signature Standard (NIST-DSS), developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

In the EU, it’s the Electronic Identification, Authentication and Trust Services (eIDAS).

How can I e-sign a document?

The ability to make an electronic signature is normally provided by a service, such as:

In general, they just offer services for companies, but some also allow individuals to sign their own documents.

The objective of those services is to give companies an easy way to set up documents to be e-signed and easily give them to their clients, in the form of a user-friendly e-sign interface.

As the signing is done using the internet, they can just email the link to the parties involved and wait for them to sign it.

This is very helpful and quick for companies that have clients abroad, whether they are individuals or businesses, as you can get legally-binding contracts signed in a matter of days, no matter how far away their clients live.

Conclusion

An electronic signature is a new way of signing documents, that takes advantage of technology and the internet to connect businesses and clients. It is safe and legal, and can be done by using e-sign services from many technology companies.

So, why don’t you try it out?