Electronic signatures are everywhere nowadays. You’d be hard-pressed to find a modern organization that doesn’t rely on an e-signature platform to manage its document workflow.
If you’re thinking about purchasing electronic signature software, either for the first time or to upgrade your existing tech stack, you’re likely wondering about the difference between standard electronic signatures and highly-secure digital signatures. If so, you’re not alone. Many professionals are unsure about the distinction.
In this post, we’ll cover the main differences between these two methods of document approval. We’ll also review the top providers in the digital signature space. Picking the right app now will save significant amounts of time and resources further down the line.
What Are Digital Signatures?
Digital signatures are a highly secure type of electronic signature. They rely on what’s called a “public key infrastructure” to limit the possibility of fraud and forgery. It is incredibly difficult to “fake” a digital signature or edits a document after it has been digitally signed.
So how do digital signatures work?
An individual or an organization purchases a “digital certificate” from a registered “certificate authority.” This certificate contains a “public key” that allows third parties to verify digital signatures. The signer then uses an e-signature platform to create and encrypt a hash based on a document’s contents. They then affix this hash to the document to signify approval.
Once they receive the approved document, the original sender is able to verify its authenticity by using the same hashing algorithm to generate another numerical sequence. If the generated hash matches the signer’s decrypted hash, the document is authentic.
Are Digital Signatures the Same Electronic Signatures?
Digital signatures and electronic signatures are not the same. While digital signatures fall under the general category of electronic signatures, not all electronic signatures qualify as digital signatures.
An electronic signature is any digital mark appended to a document to signify approval of a set of terms. At a basic level, uploading an image of a handwritten signature and adding the image file to a document would fulfill these criteria.
Digital signatures, on the other hand, rely on complex technology infrastructure to ensure high levels of encryption and document security.
Should All Organizations Use Digital Signatures?
In most cases, the answer to the question “Should all organizations use digital signatures?” is no.
Electronic signatures are fully legally binding and are covered by numerous pieces of national and international legislation.
What’s more, the long-term use of digital signatures when electronic signatures will suffice is needlessly costly.
Digital signatures may be required in some industries, such as government and defense, or when high-value contracts are involved. But most businesses can rely safely on generic electronic signatures for the majority of their approval tasks.
Top Digital Signature Apps: Our Reviews
Here’s an overview of three of the top providers currently offering digital and electronic signature features:
- PandaDoc – PandaDoc is one of the world’s leading electronic signature platforms. While PandaDoc doesn’t yet offer digital signature features, users can take advantage of highly secure electronic signatures, all of which are stored securely online with auto-generated signing certificates that record the time and date of a recipient’s approval. If you’re looking for a standard e-signature solution that provides multiple safeguards, then PandaDoc is worth checking out. It also offers what is arguably the best long-term free plan currently on the market.
- Adobe Sign – Adobe Sign is a well-known brand in the digital signature space. All plans offer digital signature functionality and the app interface is straightforward and easy to use. Users are responsible for purchasing their own digital certificates.
- MyDocSafe – MyDocSafe isn’t as popular as some other brands in the e-signature space. Nonetheless, it offers several well-priced plans for a software package that includes digital signatures along with a number of other features, including web forms, online storage, and client portals.