Traditional wet-ink signatures are considered the accepted business practice for signing documents. They are unique personal identifiers that are used to denote that the signatory has read through a contract and agreed to the stated terms and conditions. Legally binding, they are an expression of intent, and this recognition underlies their importance to commercial relationships.
However, in a rapidly digitalising world, wet-ink signatures have come to be seen as a bottleneck that slows down within- and cross-border corporate agreements and raises data security and privacy concerns. To overcome the hassles of wet-ink signatures, electronic signatures were developed for contracts to be securely signed virtually, beyond borders, and across time zones.
What Is An Electronic Signature?
Electronic signatures replace handwritten signatures as they are held to high standards of security, and are just as legally enforceable in several jurisdictions. Electronic signatures allow documents to be signed almost anywhere in the world, making them highly efficient, convenient, and cost-effective.
Today, electronic signatures are being used in sales, financial services, human resources, business contracts, and government services. In their most basic form, they may be a scanned picture of a handwritten signature, typed, or a virtual signature drawn by the signer. Known as Simple Electronic Signatures (SES), they are data in electronic form and do not require any type of identity verification.
In most cases, SES are recognised as legally binding. For more sensitive agreements, businesses and government entities turn to digital signatures which can aptly meet these additional requirements.
What Are Digital Signatures?
Digital signatures are a class of electronic signatures with a much higher standard of compliance, identity determination, and document integrity. Authorised by tamper-proof digital signed certificates, they come with an irrefutable audit trail that can be used to verify the source and authors of the document, along with the identity of the signees.
To meet stringent regulatory requirements, digital signatures come with technical implementations that introduce extra layers of trust to the signing process. A digital signature is recognised as satisfying these standards if it involves the modification of a document, via asymmetric cryptographic encryption and a hash function, in a manner where it should be possible to determine if the transformation was created by the intended signatory.
Learn More: How Secure are Digital Signatures?
The process should also ensure the integrity of the data by allowing entities to ascertain if the electronic document has been altered in any way. A signed certificate is then issued to all parties to verify details such as the timestamp of the original document creation, details of signees’ identity, and an assurance that the electronic record has not been modified.
To preserve the validity of the transaction, the digital signature and signed certificate must have been created during the operational period of an authorised body. If a digital signature satisfies all the above conditions, then it is legally recognised as a secure electronic signature and can be used to execute written contracts.
Understanding The Ecosystem That Enables Secure Digital Signing
With the rising prevalence of cybersecurity threats, how are digital signing solutions able to provide assurance of being tamper-proof and forge-proof while also ensuring data privacy, security, and document residency?
The answer lies in four main factors. The ability for digital documents to be checked for even minor modifications, a process where every step is tracked, determining user identity online, and decentralisation for document residency requirements.
Preserving Document Integrity
Information integrity is the cornerstone of any document management system. An electronic document has integrity when it can be determined that the contents have not been added to, subtracted from, or edited. In other words, the document has not changed in any way, shape, or form.
Without integrity, there is no trust, as users are unable to determine if the document they are signing has been tampered with to change the terms of the agreement. Document integrity also prevents users from modifying contracts after they have been signed. In the information age, it is of critical importance that electronic records can be trusted and relied upon.
Once the signatories have added their digital signatures, a check is conducted to ensure that the document has not been tampered with. To check the validity of the digitally signed, document, it needs to be cross-checked with the source. If they are secured on blockchain, then a cryptographic hash check is done and the document is verified and its history is produced.
If the outputs match, then the document is proved to be unaltered, and the integrity of the document can be safely presumed to be preserved. Using this method even minor changes to the document will give a vastly different hash output, alerting all users that the document has been modified.
Dedoco’s dSign solution builds on these fundamental principles and maintains industry-compliant cybersecurity measures to protect document integrity and introduce trust into every step of the process. Our decentralised platform generates a unique hash which is stored on the blockchain, negating the need to store the document itself. Any edits or updates to the document are permanently recorded on the blockchain. Hence the chain of custody is transparent to all, and the versioning history of the document cannot be tampered with by third parties or bad actors.
A major advantage of digital signing is the provision of an audit trail. An audit trail is immutable evidence of the sequence of events that have occurred during the signing process. It is a time-stamped record of every single interaction with an electronic document, from the moment it was uploaded up until the project concludes.
An audit trail from digital document signing will include the timestamp of every signature, versioning history for any modifications to the original contract, and a confirmation of the signees’ identities (which can be verified via various means). Physical signatures, however, are unable to provide such a robust audit trail. Documents can be altered without signatories being aware, and trust has to be placed among all parties involved.
Physically signing business contracts, which are often subjected to several rounds of revision, can result in confusion and inefficiencies. Documents will have to be verified manually and there is no stringent record that reflects the exact order of events without the possibility of tampering having occurred at some stage. With online digital signatures, every step is cryptographically logged and there can be no doubt about the exact sequence of events.
Audit trails do more than introduce another layer of security and transparency to digital signing. They are also legally recognised and can be used as evidence of the agreement to a document’s terms. They can be upheld in court and serve to protect all parties from frivolous lawsuits or contract disputes.
Verifying a person’s identity is often an essential compliance requirement for sectors looking to make the move to digital online signatures. Identity verification measures reduce risk, enhance trust, and deter fraud. To facilitate this feature, there are several different ways to ascertain a person’s identity digitally and ensure that the signatories are who they claim to be.
Often the need for rigorous identification has to be balanced against convenience, usability, and ease of access. With these practical considerations, the simplest method of identity verification is knowledge-based authentication.
This method uses “shared secret questions” which have been previously agreed upon (similar to those used by websites when you’ve forgotten your passwords), or personal questions which only the signer is likely to know the answers. Knowledge-based authentication is convenient and simple, but vulnerable to attack and poses a significant security risk in today’s operating environments.
A stronger method of proof-of-identity for digital signing can come from identification documents such as passports, government-issued identity cards, residence permit, or driver’s licence. Requiring signees to upload physical documents adds another layer to the security of the process at the cost of a minor inconvenience.
Other ways of verification come from 2-factor authorisation and biometric data. These use unique identifiers to confirm that only authorised parties are able to view, modify, and digitally sign documents. Some commonly used identifiers include software tokens, fingerprints, handphone numbers, email addresses, and facial recognition. The benefit of 2-factor or biometric authentication comes from their ease of use, coupled with a high degree of identity assurance.
Many of us may already be familiar with 2-factor or biometric methods of identity verification. Some countries tap on these authentication methods for access to government services. For instance, Dedoco has partnered with the Singapore government in their “Sign with Singpass” service to provide a digital signing solution that is integrated with a widely used National Identity Provider for a more secure and convenient way to transact online. SingPass uses many different identity verification methods and is continually being updated to keep up with evolving standards.
Beyond National Identity Providers, the Dedoco platform also flexibly integrates with Private Identity Providers (IdPs) for customers with specific demands. Our Dedoco digital signing certificate can also be retrieved from the blockchain via our verification feature as and when required and contains critical information like the document hash history, and timestamps for user verification.
Among our suite of enterprise apps is dVideoSign, a secure signing solution for virtual video meetings or events, providing the security and assurance of in-person meetings with the convenience of being geographically dispersed. It allows 2FA verification to authenticate the identity of participants and allows for a more interactive signing experience that facilitates closer discussion and collaboration between the host, signatories, and witnesses.
With virtual meetings rising in popularity since the pandemic, a digital signing solution integrated with identity verification features simply makes sense for consumers and enterprises alike and Dedoco has chosen to stay ahead of the curve with our offerings.
Decentralisation And Web 3.0
Decentralisation, blockchains, smart contracts, and tokenization are the next wave of the internet. Known collectively as Web 3.0, these concepts aim to eliminate the inefficiencies of Web 2.0 while building on the paradigm shifts created in the digital landscape over the last decade. Already governments and enterprises are fast recognising the potential of Web 3.0 and are moving to update laws and adapt their products to a new business environment.
The Dedoco platform, products, and services have all been built on next-gen technology and provide a decentralised platform with open architecture to protect data privacy,security, and residency. This makes our app suite future-proof while offering a digital signing experience that is highly secure, convenient to use, regulatory compliant, and constantly advancing.
Decentralisation is the main driving force behind the iteration of Web 3.0. While Web 2.0 forever changed how we interact with the digital world, it also led to over-centralisation, data privacy concerns, and bloat. High-trust sectors, such as government and public, financial services, and healthcare, have more stringent data and document residency requirements that render most Web 2.0 digital signing services incompatible and unsuitable within their operating landscape.
Dedoco’s dSign taps on decentralisation and blockchaining to create an elegant solution to bridge this gap. The architecture underpinning the technology behind dSign ensures that organisations are firmly in control and have full residency of their documents, eliminating privacy concerns and enabling complete regulatory compliance.
While privacy and document residency is guaranteed by decentralisation, irrefutable blockchain logs and document evidence trails take trust and security to the next level. Every interaction with the document is recorded on the blockchain, and signature and document data are securely interlinked.
Dedoco adopts an API-first approach where open connectivity increases transformational agility, facilitates integration, ensures scalability, and keeps our digital signing solutions on the cutting edge of technological progress.
Businesses recognise the benefits of going paperless but up until fairly recently, physical sign-offs were still very much the norm. The Covid-19 pandemic was a catalyst in accelerating digital transformation, especially with an ecosystem that enables secure digital signing already poised to aid businesses and organisations with the transition.
The use case for digital signing is well-established. It streamlines workflow and processes while increasing business efficiency. Digital signing means contracts are approved almost instantly, agreements can be made remotely, and end-to-end digital workflows are seamless. International commerce is also made simpler and more secure.
With consumers demanding more digital experiences, new avenues for profit-making and value-adding to products and services can also be sought. At the same time, higher security standards are met and overheads from printing costs can be cut down.
The ability to cut costs while speeding up and simplifying business processes are the main driving factors behind the rapid adoption of digital signing solutions. Even after the effects of the pandemic have subsided, digital signing continues to rise in popularity.
The sophisticated security measures imposed by providers like Dedoco, along with features like decentralisation, real-time verification, regulatory compliance, and document ownership laid the groundwork for high-trust sectors to also onboard digital signing processes.
The biggest push towards digital signing solutions comes from convenience. Digital signatures are intuitive, easy to use, and mobile-friendly. Features like integrations with National and Private Identity Providers, versioning history, and multiple signing options increase the appeal of digital signing solutions and contribute to rising usage.
Common Questions You May Have
1) Can a digital signature be copied?
Unlike physical signatures, digital signatures cannot be copied across documents. It is tied to the document itself and contains an audit trail with information about the identity of the signer. Once a document is signed and secured on the blockchain, the document has an audit trail of key events with timestamps, the identity of the signer and other details. If a document has been modified or tampered with in any way, the document would be rejected when verified on the blockchain as the document hash does not match the one secured on chain.
Duplicating someone’s digital signature is much harder than forging wet-ink signatures as you must pass stringent identity verification tests. All your actions are also logged, making it easier to spot and prevent fraudulent activity.
2) Are digital signatures better than wet-ink signatures?
Digital signatures are a very different concept from wet-ink signatures. Digital signing resolves issues with physical signatures such as document tampering, data security, forgery, and fraud. Identity verification, document integrity, digital certificates, and audit trails are very much integrated features of digital signing solutions and add layers of security and compliance to the process.
Physical signing lacks these robust protections, and are less convenient, more inefficient and costly.
3) What kind of digital signing solutions are available?
As the flagship product of Dedoco, our dSign digital signing solution is powered by the Dedoco Trust Engine which lets you approve contracts securely and conveniently. Advanced encryption and hashing maintain document integrity while decentralisation ensures true ownership of documents. Every interaction is tracked in real-time and at the end of the process a digital certificate will be generated and issued for accurate record keeping.
Dedoco’s dVideoSign was created to encompass the best of both real-time, face-to-face interactions and secure digital signing. Once a document is finalised and ready for signing with witnesses, instant identity verification of stakeholders and signees can be done via video chat features in virtual rooms, while time-stamped shared recordings provide a level of assurance that all relevant participants can access.
For organisations and institutions that issue official credentials to individuals, dCert offers a way to protect their accreditations, awards, and accolades and makes them tamper-proof. Tapping on blockchain technology allows for a zero-trust, decentralised approach to prevent fraud and enhanced credibility.
4) Why choose Dedoco as your digital signing solution provider?
For businesses used to physical signatures, moving to digital signing might be a difficult transition to make. Security concerns abound, questions arise over usability, data residency, and the reputation of a digital signing provider.
Dedoco’s app suite was developed with the end consumer in mind. We use enterprise-grade cryptographic hashing to maintain document integrity and pair it with multiple methods of secure online signing to ensure that transactions can be approved conveniently without compromising security.
The real case for choosing Dedoco as your digital signing provider comes from our Web3 approach which ensures organisations have true ownership of document residency while allowing for a rigid audit trail, smart contracts, and tamper-proof document management.
In recognition of the high standard of our applications, Dedoco was chosen to collaborate with the Singapore’s government in the rollout of their National Digital Identity (NDI) Smart Nation strategic national project. Dedoco is also accredited by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) of Singapore, is ISO 27001 certified, and awarded the 2022 Innovation Index Award for our utilisation of blockchain technology for enterprise document management.
Dedoco has also expanded its suite of products to fit different use cases. dVideoSign is an example of our forward-thinking approach to constantly improving our offerings. Our commitment to open architecture and API-first approach is geared towards the future evolution and personalisation of our products to meet changing needs.
Common Misconceptions About Digital Signatures
1) Adopting digital signatures is a hassle and hard to implement
Digital signatures are designed to enhance the productivity and efficiency of end-to-end workflows. Industry standards for security are well-established so you can rest assured that the process is transparent and trustworthy. Digital signing solution providers like Dedoco which offer national and private identity provider integrations make it even simpler for you to go-to-market with digital signing features. Our open API environment also allows your in-house developers to customise the product to your unique needs, easing the transition.
2) Digital signatures are expensive
Our prices for unlimited document signing with our dSign digital signing solution start at USD $25/month for the basic package. It comes with multiple digital signing methods, email or sms authentication, real-time audit trails, and cloud integrations. This price is affordable for the vast majority of businesses that stand to benefit from digitalising their processes.
Advanced features such as unlimited API integrations and unlimited dVideoSign sessions require custom pricing so reach out to us for a quote.
3) A digitally signed document can be tampered with
Digitally signed documents on our Dedoco platforms are tamper-proof. Signatures are hashed along with document data, making them tamper-proof, counterfeit-proof and verifiable audit records demonstrate compliance with governance, regulations and procedures. All users can instantly verify documents and retrieve complete document history to support audits.
4) Digital signatures are not legally binding
Digital signatures have been recognised as legally binding by a number of jurisdictions. Guidelines and standards have been laid out and digital signing providers like Dedoco have ensured that our products are fully compliant with updated regulations.
5) Digital signatures are a passing fad
Physical signatures still have their place in many situations. But where transactions need to be approved speedily and remotely, digital signatures offer higher convenience, security, speed, and cost-savings. These benefits are especially pertinent for businesses with a high volume of document signing and for high-trust sectors that deal with sensitive and confidential information. Digital signatures scale easily, allowing them to carry out their operations with a higher degree of security, privacy, and simplicity while lowering overall costs.
Inevitably, digital signatures will slowly replace wet-ink signatures in business environments where profit incentive is strongest.
Digital signing is a critical component of an overall broader trend towards increasing digitalisation. Without highly-secure digital online signatures, document management can never truly become paperless.
With the list of benefits continually growing, it’s only a matter of time before physical wet-ink signatures are considered outdated. Decision makers need to understand the ecosystem that enables secure digital signing and choose providers that satisfy their legal obligations, internal requirements, have a proven track record, and are committed to security, flexibility, and future-proofing.
As one of Singapore’s most trusted application providers, Dedoco sets itself apart from other solutions with our platform built on next-gen technology. Our expanding suite of products and open architecture ensure that you can find the right solution to fit your enterprise needs and customise them as required. Contact our sales team with your questions and let us know how we can power your business through the digital revolution.