In the past few years, many companies have shifted to e-signatures to overcome the challenges of paper-based processes and improve efficiency.
This article defines the different types of electronic signatures, including digital signatures, and highlights the benefits of electronic document signing.
What is an electronic signature?
An e-signature is a legal way of signing electronic documents. Creating an e-signature can be as simple as typing your name or drawing your signature on a PDF file.
However, the most secure e-signatures are alphanumeric codes generated via cryptographic algorithms (digital signatures).
For an electronic signature to hold up in court, you must be able to prove that:
- the signer is, in fact, the person who signed the document
- no one made any changes to the document after signing
What are the types of e-signatures?
Based on the level of security they provide, eIDAS defines three types of e-signatures, each with a different legal effect.
- Standard/Simple electronic signatures (SES)
- Advanced electronic signatures (AES)
- Qualified electronic signatures (QES)
1. Simple/Standard electronic signatures (SES)
Standard electronic signatures are the least secure type of e-signatures. That’s because they can’t verify the identity of the signers nor the integrity of signed documents.
A standard electronic signature can be as simple as a text, an image, or a symbol placed on a document electronically with the intent to sign. Examples of standard electronic signatures are:
- adding a picture of your signature to a document
- typing your name on a document using an online signature maker that doesn’t require you to create a user account or authenticate yourself in any other way
Since they don’t require signer authentication, standard electronic signatures have no way of binding the signer to the signature. Hence, the signer can easily repudiate the signature (e.g., claiming that their signature was forged, denying having signed the documents).
Moreover, most e-signatures don’t provide any safeguards against document manipulation. As a result, anyone could alter the document after signing, and there would be no way of proving it.
Therefore, in most cases, standard electronic signatures won’t hold up in court. However, it will always be up to the judge to decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether a simple e-signature can be recognized as valid or not.
2. Advanced electronic signatures (AES)
Advanced electronic signatures, aka digital signatures, are much more secure than standard ones.
According to eIDAS, an advanced electronic signature must be:
- uniquely linked to the signer
- capable of identifying the signer
- created using electronic signature creation data that is under the sole control of the signer
- connected to the signed documents so that any subsequent changes can be detected.
To meet these requirements, AES rely on public-key cryptography, digital certificates, and hashing algorithms. One can create advanced electronic signatures using a certificate-based digital ID such as NemID, BankID, itsme®, etc.
Thanks to the higher level of security they provide, advanced electronic signatures can prove the authenticity of a signed document if challenged in court. However, there are a few situations where advanced electronic signatures are not enough, and you should use a qualified e-signature.
3. Qualified electronic signatures (QES)
Qualified electronic signatures are advanced electronic signatures that:
- are created using a qualified electronic signature creation device such as USB tokens, smartcards, or remote creation devices
- are based on a qualified digital certificate issued by a qualified trust service provider (QTSP)
In other words, a qualified electronic signature is an advanced e-signature that has reached a higher probative value by meeting those two additional requirements.
Under eIDAS, qualified electronic signatures have the same legal standing as handwritten signatures in all EU countries. Moreover, it is illegal for the Member States to request e-signatures with a higher security level than qualified electronic signatures.
To recap, while all e-signatures can be used to sign documents online, not all of them are as secure and legally binding as qualified electronic signatures. Therefore, we recommend using qualified e-signatures whenever possible to ensure the validity of your document transactions.
What are the benefits of e-signatures?
E-signatures make life easier for businesses and their customers. The three main benefits that make electronic signatures better than wet signatures are:
- Productivity: When it comes to document signing, employees spend a lot of valuable time on manual tasks. E-signatures help automate manual processes and save time.
- Cost savings: E-signing helps companies reduce the costs associated with paper, printing, and postage.
- Customer experience: E-signatures eliminate the hassle of printing and mailing documents. Customers can e-sign documents no matter where they are or what device they use.
Digital signatures provide additional benefits such as a high level of assurance, compliance with legal requirements, and increased security.
Creating an e-signature with Penneo
You can use Penneo to create both standard electronic signatures and digital signatures. In Penneo, simple electronic signatures are called Touch signatures.
You can create a standard electronic signature (Touch) by:
- typing your name on the document
- drawing your signature with a mouse/touchpad
- inserting an image of the signature in the PDF
Touch signatures created with Penneo are more reliable than those made with online signature generators.
Our solution can detect any changes in the document after signing. If someone tampers with the signed PDF, Penneo will immediately invalidate the signature.
Additionally, Penneo generates an audit trail that shows who signed the document and when.
Our solution also includes the IP address of the signer and their email address in the final document, which can sometimes help prove the signer’s identity in court.
However, it will still be up to the judge to decide whether the signature is valid or not. That’s why we recommend using digital signatures, when possible, to ensure the validity of signed documents.
To create a digital signature with Penneo, you need to use your national eID. Supported eIDs include itsme®, NemID, Swedish BankID, Norwegian BankID, Finnish Bank ID, and Mobiilivarmenne.
E-sign documents for free with Penneo
Are you in the market for secure e-signing software? Look no further than Penneo Sign.
Our solution helps you get rid of paper-based processes and automate manual work, so you can provide a modern experience to your clients and improve employee satisfaction.
Request a free trial and start e-signing documents for free!