Electronic signatures such as Adobe Acrobat Sign came under the spotlight and the forefront of technology in 2020 as a result of Covid, the outcome of employees working from home. Signing everything electronically, contracts, legal documents and more could no longer be done in person, so organisations looked to digital signing. This new approach also focused attention on companies Digital Transformation and Sustainability journeys.

E-signature Basics

There are two main kinds of signatures: wet signatures and e-signatures. Here’s a closer look at how they differ.

  1. Wet signatures are physical signatures you make on paper with a pen. These signatures are a representation of the signer’s identity and acknowledgment of the document they’re signing. A person might physically sign the document and send it back to the recipient in the mail or sign it in the presence of certain individuals.

When you sign a physical document, the recipient must trust that you’re the right person. While the recipient can verify the signer’s identity when they provide them with documentation such as a driver’s license or Social Security card, it’s tricky to do so unless the signer and recipient are in the same room. Furthermore, signers must trust that signatures aren’t going to be forged.

  1. An electronic signature serves the same purpose as a wet signature – it represents the signer’s identity and acknowledgment of the document they’re signing. This kind of signing happens online and is legally binding in most cases, just like a wet signature. An example would be signing an apartment lease through the property management website’s portal.
  2. This kind of signature is much easier to verify. An electronic signature is linked to the signer’s name, computer, email address, and IP address. This information makes it simple for recipients to track who signed what and when. If a bad actor attempts to impersonate you, it won’t take long to follow the digital trail and find out who it was.

An important point to make, is that many people use the terms “electronic signature” and “digital signature” interchangeably. These signatures aren’t the same.

“Digital signatures are a more secure version of electronic signing that involves a digital certificate and public key infrastructure (PKI). These kinds of signatures are an essential part of certain online security processes, but electronic signatures are what you use when signing documents online, not digital signatures.”

Electronic signatures can be more secure than paper signatures. Electronic signatures have many layers of security and authentication built in, along with legal proof of transaction.

Unlike wet signatures, e-signatures also come with an electronic record that serves as an audit trail and proof of the transaction. The audit trail includes the history of actions taken with the document, including the details of when it was opened, viewed and signed. If one of the signers disputes their signature, or if there’s any question about the transaction, an audit trail is available to all participants which can resolve any objections.

Detailed certificates of completion are another feature, this can include specific details about each signer on the document, including the consumer disclosure indicating the signer agreed to use e-signature, the signature image, key event timestamps and other identifying information.

Th use of tamper-evident seal is also used once the signing process is complete, all documents are digitally sealed using Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), an industry-standard technology. This seal indicates the electronic signature is valid and that the document hasn’t been tampered with or altered since the date of signing.

The right e-signature solution should be able to provide all the above. In addition, they should have certifications from neutral third parties that prove their claims. The ISO 27001:2013 certification is the highest level of global security assurance available.

Types of documents that can be signed by an e-signature

Adobe Acrobat Sign is a market leader in the e-signature space and uses Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). PKI uses a public and private key to ensure that the signature provided is authentic. Much like an in-person signature where you may have to match one on file, digital signature keys require key matches to verify the signature.

There are numerous laws surrounding digital signatures and their legality and have been since 1999. Regulations such as the Electronic Identification and Trust Services (eIDAS) regulation, was recently adopted in the European Union. Compliance is stringent to prevent fraudulent attacks but nevertheless hackers have found ways round.

One of the weakest links in cybersecurity is human input. Providing your employees with the correct training to flag any potential scams is a simple first step. Having a process to report scams should be in place. As attacks get more sophisticated, regular and updated training and awareness among staff is key. Alongside, ensuring all computers are up to date, with the correct security patches is imperative. 

Here’s more information about what you need to know about e-signatures and cybersecurity.

What Are the Risks of Electronic Signatures?

Before there was a digital alternative, pen-and-paper signatures were the most secure option. Ideally you would have a witness to the signing to verify the signer’s identity. If the authenticity of the signature was ever in doubt, a signature forensics expert could verify it. Additionally, the paper copy could be stored for an indefinite amount of time.

If you have a home office you know the risks of paper signatures: children, dogs, spilled coffee, unruly filing cabinets etc. It can be risky to sign paper documents even in the comfort of your own home. And, of course, paper signatures are vulnerable to fire, flood and other natural disasters. You can solve that problem by making copies, but that introduces possible tampering. Or you could scan all the documents into a computer system, but then they’re just e-signatures without the additional security an e-signature platform provides.

While e-signatures such as Adobe Acrobat Sign are often more secure than wet signatures, businesses can still encounter issues when they use them. The security of an electronic signature lies in your hands. If your organization mishandles the data associated with the e-signatures you have on file, you can experience many problems, including:

  1. Intellectual property loss: Because customers and clients trust you with their data, it’s crucial to keep it safe. This factor is important for reputation and legal reasons. If you fail to properly manage the electronic signatures you receive, you could experience repercussions from the public and the law.
  2. Decreased productivity and flow: When an employee accidentally deletes or misplaces data such as e-signatures, it affects your entire business’s productivity and flow. Once that happens, you’ll have to set aside time to recover what was lost and communicate what happened to the relevant individuals.
  3. Financial loss: In some cases, data-loss issues translate to financial problems. When customers and clients learn about what happened, they may choose to take their business elsewhere. As a result, you miss out on sales.

Security Benefits of Electronic Signatures

The main advantage of electronic signatures such as Adobe Acrobat Sign is that they’re more secure than wet signatures. These signatures provide increased authenticity and make it less likely that someone will attempt to forge a signature. Even when that happens, it’s not as much of an issue as it’d be with a wet signature, as the forgery is typically easy to track.

There are several technological layers to electronic signatures. At a minimum, your signature will be linked to your unique device and signing certificate password. For increased security, you can require two-factor authentication (2FA) and other verification processes. The resulting digital trail gives signers greater peace of mind and recipients know what to do to verify signers’ identities. When businesses heavily rely on signatures for various documents, e-signatures provide a secure and accessible way for customers and clients to approve documents.

What to Consider Before Using Adobe Acrobat Sign

Like any new feature you introduce to your organization, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons before you become fully invested. In general, e-signatures have many advantages, so long as you have a plan in place to manage and process them properly. Ultimately, know that in most cases, your business can benefit from implementing Adobe Acrobat Sign. As a result, your customers and clients will have a safe and easy way to sign a variety of documents, whether coffee shop receipts or non-disclosure agreements.

Investing in a secure platform such as Adobe Acrobat Sign will boost your chances of success. When conducting your research, be sure to compare e-signature options so you know which ones are the most secure, meet your needs, and match your budget. After you choose a platform, make sure your staff members know how to use it properly. If you have an information technology (IT) department, have them guide the training for relevant employees. This way, they’ll know how to correctly manage the data, reducing the risk of errors.

Electronic Signatures Can Be an Effective Alternative

Many organisations are moving away from wet signatures and implementing e-signature software such as Adobe Acrobat Sign in their place of work. This kind of approach can make it easier for companies to collect signatures for a variety of applications without having to worry about paper and pens. When you have the right approach in place, e-signatures can be an effective solution.

For more information on Adobe Acrobat Sign or anything Adobe email adobe@micromail.ie