In most developed countries, electronic signatures are becoming as valid as conventional signatures. It’s more than a digital signature and can take surprisingly varied forms, as discussed in this article. Moving to electronic signatures is an essential step of moving to complete e-business.
1. An electronic signature is defined as “an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record” ( see U.S. Code).
2. Courts have accepted e-mail messages, facsimile (FAX) copies of signed documents, encoded messages (e.g. telegrams), encrypted signatures and e-filings as valid electronic signatures, among others.
3. A digital signature involves programmed generation of a unique private key and a corresponding public key. At the signer’s end, a digital signature is generated on the basis of a message and the private key. At the recipient’s end, the signature is verified using the public key with the message and signature.
4. Digital signatures are easier to authenticate than the other forms of electronic signatures because cryptographic means are used for creating the signature, and can be used for sending the message. The signer cannot repudiate the signature on the ground that the private key has been compromised.
5. A trend is emerging to digitize the complete signing process. Documents are hand-signed and factors such as hand-pressure used for signing different parts are recorded and encrypted. It is much more difficult to forge all the different elements and authentication becomes more dependable.
6. Biometric signatures attach unique individual characteristics such as fingerprints and iris patterns to the documents. Modern passports and visas are examples of such documents which are verified by sensors scanning and matching these characteristics of the individual carrying the document.
7. All forms of electronic signatures, including biometric ones, have been forged or spoofed successfully. However, such duplication is much more difficult compared to conventional signatures, which can be forged by skilled forgers easily.
8. Businesses typically rely on other factors, such as a continuing business relationship, receipt of some payment under the contract and telephone conversations with the person concerned, to ensure the genuineness of electronic signatures.
9. This are an essential element of e-commerce that speeds up and extends the reach of business transactions and is being increasingly accepted by courts of law as binding on the parties.
10. Full authentication requires that electronic signatures be combined with some means to assure that the accompanying document itself is authentic and has not been altered since it has been signed. Encryption and locking of documents seek to provide such authenticity.
Electronic signatures can exist in different forms such as sending an e-mail that cannot be changed by users and attaching biometric signatures such as scanned fingerprints and iris patterns to documents. No form of electronic signature has been found completely foolproof. However, they are typically much harder to forge or spoof compared to conventional signatures.