Are you thinking about using digital signatures to approve documents? Perhaps you work for an organization overhauling and streamlining its document workflows. Or you might be an individual looking for a secure way to approve contracts, proposals, invoices, and so on.
If the answer to that question is yes, you’re likely a little confused by the many options available to you. Should you use digital signatures instead of simpler electronic signatures? What software do you need? Which is the most secure option for approving documents?
In this post, we’ll answer all those questions. We’ll define key terms, show you how digital signatures work, and review some of the top providers on the market.
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What Are Digital Signatures and How Do They Work?
A digital signature certificate or DSC is a type of personal key that is stored securely on an organization or individual’s computer. It must be purchased from a registered “certificate authority.”
A signer uses their digital certificate to generate a unique hash, based on a document’s contents, and attach it to the original file, thus signifying approval. The sender can then use a public key (also supplied by the certificate authority) to decrypt the hash and see if it matches the document.
Here’s an overview of the process:
- The recipient receives a document for signing.
- They use their e-signature software to create an encrypted hash based on the document’s contents. It is affixed to the original file. The encrypted hash is the “digital signature.”
- The encrypted hash, the signed document, and the recipient’s public key (contained in the digital certificate) are all returned to the sender.
- The sender generates a hash from the signed document and uses the public key to decrypt the signer’s hash. If both hashes match, the document is authentic.
E-Signature Platforms: Top 3 Roundup
A digital signature platform is an app that enables users to upload documents and generate secure digital signatures. Typically they are available as software-as-a-service subscriptions.
Here is our roundup of three of the top providers:
- PandaDoc – PandaDoc is a comprehensive e-signature solution. For businesses looking for an easy-to-use electronic signature app that provides additional layers of security, PandaDoc is one of the best options currently available and offers a “forever free” plan with no caps on the number of documents that can be sent for signing. No digital signature features are offered at the moment.
- Adobe Sign – Adobe Sign is a popular solution that includes digital signature features on all of its paid plans. Users are responsible for purchasing their own digital certificates.
- Zoho Sign – Zoho Sign offers several competitively-priced packages, all of which include digital signature tools. Zoho is notable because it handles all aspects of the digital signing process, including issuing digital certificates. A long-term free plan is available, although it does have caps that are quite restrictive and is best used to sample the software before purchasing a subscription.