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Electronic vs Digital signature

While the terms are often used interchangeably, there is an important difference to recognize.

What is an electronic signature?

eIDAS Article 3 defines simple electronic signature as “any data in electronic form which is attached to or logically associated with other data in electronic form and which is used by the signatory to sign”.

In other words, typing a name under a document or an email already constitues as an electronic signature.

An electronic signature (eSignature) is a legal way to get consent or approval on electronic documents or forms. Electronic signatures can be used to replace handwritten signatures in virtually every personal or business process.

Examples include contracts, application forms, new hire onboarding forms, non-disclosure agreements, vendor onboarding and RFPs, change authorizations, or government benefits enrolment forms.

Electronic signatures, or eSignatures, refer broadly to any electronic process that indicates acceptance of an agreement or a record.

This can mean typing a name or drawing a signature with a mouse with no added level of trust or security but electronic signatures can also have extra levels of security to them involving officially issued electronic certificates, as defined by the eIDAS regulation, such as advanced electronic signature and qualified electronic signature. 

What is a digital signature?

The term digital signatureis reserved for a specific subset of electronic signatures that uses a certificate-based digital ID binding each signature into the document with encryption. This is to authenticate the identity of the signatory and demonstrate proof of signing. 

It can be used to comply with the most demanding legal and regulatory requirements because it provides a high level of assurance about the identity of each signatory and the authenticity of the signed documents.

Digital signatures use a certificate-based digital ID issued by an accredited Certificate Authority (CA) or Trust Service Provider (TSP) so when you digitally sign a document, the signature is uniquely linked to your identity, bound to the document with encryption, and everything can be verified using underlying technology known as Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).

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