Cybersecurity and electronic signatures: what you need to know


“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford, on his innovations in automobile construction.

During an 1875 debate in the United States Congress, senators warned the public against automobiles. “Gasoline-powered horseless carriages can reach speeds of 14 or even 20 miles per hour,” the filing reads, among other dire warnings. Some thought that this new type of transport was clearly inferior to traveling on horseback.

You can find similar concerns with any relatively new technology. It’s assumed that the old way of doing things is always better – and never mind that the old way was just an attempt to deal with limitations that no longer exist.

The debate over e-signature versus a traditional pen-and-paper signature is a perfect example. It’s easy to worry about cybersecurity and electronic signatures, while overlooking the flaws of the analog option.

In fact, electronic signatures can be more secure than paper and ink signatures. Here’s what you need to know about electronic signatures and cybersecurity.

Security Risks of Paper Signatures

Before there was a digital alternative, pen and paper signatures were the most secure option. Ideally, you would have a witness to the signature to verify the identity of the signatory. Should the authenticity of the signature be in doubt, a signature forensic scientist could verify it. In addition, the hard copy could be stored for an indefinite period; we have signed documents that are centuries old.

If you have a home office, you know the risks of paper signatures: kids, dogs, spilled coffee, unruly filing cabinets, vacuuming, wind. It is risky to sign paper documents even from the comfort of your own home. And, of course, paper signatures are vulnerable to fires, floods and other natural disasters. You can solve this problem by making copies, but that introduces another vector of tampering. Or you can scan all documents into a computer system – but then they are just electronic signatures without the added security provided by an electronic signature platform.

Electronic signatures can be more secure than their paper counterparts.

Electronic signatures have many layers of security and authentication are included, accompanied by proof of transaction admissible by the court:

  • Electronic file: Unlike handwritten signatures, electronic 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 details of when it was opened, viewed, and signed. If one of the signatories challenges their signature, or if there are questions about the transaction, this audit trail is available to all participants in the transaction and can resolve these objections.
  • Certificates of Completion: Detailed certificates of completion can include specific details about each signer on the document, including disclosure to the consumer that the signer has agreed to use the electronic signature, signature image, timestamps of key events and the signer’s IP address and other identifying information.
  • Tamper evident seal: After the signing process is complete, all documents are digitally sealed using Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), an industry standard technology. This seal indicates that the electronic signature is valid and that the document has not been tampered with or altered since the date of signature.

The right electronic signature solution should be able to provide all of the above. Additionally, they should have certifications from neutral third parties that back up their claims. the ISO 27001:2013 Certification is the highest level of global security assurance available.

Types of documents that can be signed electronically

Virtually any business agreement that can be signed with pen and paper can be an electronic signature document:

  • Purchase contracts

  • Employment contracts and offer letters

  • Proxy forms

  • Rental Agreement Forms

  • Profit and loss accounts

  • tax forms

  • Proposals

  • Work statement template

And much more.

In the United States, the ESIGN Law and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) give electronic signatures the same validity as wet ink signatures in most cases.

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