A substantial number of companies rely on electronic signatures to approve business documents. The process of signing a document electronically is far easier, faster, and more cost-effective than traditional pen-and-ink alternatives.
However, despite the widespread use of electronic signatures, confusion still remains around some of the core terminologies. In particular, digital signatures are often confused with generic electronic signatures. In addition, technologies like digital certificates and public key infrastructures are also little understood.
In this article, we’ll outline the differences between the main concepts. We’ll define terms, explain how companies can leverage digital signatures in their document workflows, and review some of the top platforms on the market.
DSC Software: A Simple Definition
DSC stands for “digital signature certificate.” To understand how digital certificates work, you need to know how they fit into the broader process of digital signing.
A digital signature is a highly secure form of signing a document electronically. Digital signatures are very difficult to forge. They leverage advanced encryption and verification technology to validate the identity of the intended signee and ensure that a document has not been edited after signing.
To sign a document with a digital signature, an individual or organization must first purchase a certificate from a registered “certificate authority.” This certificate, stored securely on the signer’s hard drive or a USB, acts as a “key” or “stamp” by which documents are approved.
In conjunction with specialist software, the signer uses their private key (or digital certificate) to create a hash that is based on the contents of a signed document. The document can then be passed through the algorithm of a public key (that corresponds to the private key) to create a second hash. If this hash matches the first, the document is authentic.
This technology, along with its supporting software and hardware, is collectively referred to as a “public key infrastructure.”
Are Digital Signatures the Same as Electronic Signatures?
In a word, no. While digital signatures are a type of electronic signature, not all electronic signatures qualify as digital signatures.
An electronic signature is any virtual mark that is affixed to a document to signify approval. Electronic signatures do not necessarily rely on public key infrastructure.
It’s also worth mentioning that not all organizations need to use digital signatures. In fact, for the majority of individuals and businesses, doing so would be unnecessarily wasteful in terms of both cost and time.
Digital Signature Software: Top 3 E-Signature Platforms
Thinking about purchasing digital signature software? Here’s our roundup of the top three platforms:
- PandaDoc – Although PandaDoc only provides electronic signature (and not digital signature) functionality, we’ve included it here because it is one of the most secure options for individuals that require the simplicity of generic electronic signatures but with additional safeguards. PandaDoc is a comprehensive document management solution. Signed documents are stored securely online, along with an auto-generated signing certificate that records the date and time of the recipient’s approval.
- Adobe Sign – Adobe Sign is one of the best-known brands in the electronic signature space. All plans offer digital signature features, although individual users are responsible for purchasing certificates. You can, alternatively, create your own. If you’re looking for straightforward, streamlined software with which to send and track documents, Adobe Sign is well worth considering. One downside is that subscriptions are more expensive than some close competitors.
- DocuSign – DocuSign is another well-known brand in the e-signature space. The easy-to-use software, which includes additional document management features, is popular with many businesses. DocuSign offers digital signature functionality, although it is unclear if it is included on the standard plans. You’ll have to contact the sales department to discuss options.