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Digital signatures belong to a broader category, including various electronic authentication methods. They uniquely and securely associate signers with documents in any transaction involving signing, ensuring non-repudiation, meaning electronically signed transactions cannot be denied later.
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How Does a Digital Signature Work?
Digital signatures, which come in various forms, employ cryptographic algorithms to generate unique codes or hashes linked with the signed document. They use cryptographic algorithms to create unique codes or hashes associated with each signed document.
Cryptographic Algorithms and Public Key Infrastructure
The process begins when an algorithm generates a hash from the document’s content. This hashed data is then encrypted using public key infrastructure (PKI). PKI employs two distinct keys to authenticate: one public and one private. The signer uses their private key to encrypt, or “sign”, the hashed data, creating a digital signature that securely associates it with the corresponding message or file.
This digitally-signed information can be sent with the original documents without compromising security during transmission.
Upon reaching its destination, a series of processes are initiated to verify authenticity. First, the recipient software decrypts the received encrypted hash using the sender’s publicly available key, created on the sender’s side.
Next, a new calculation generates fresh hash values for incoming messages using the sender’s same hashing method. Proofpoint DMARC solutions play a crucial role here, providing robust verification protocols that ensure integrity by matching these recalculated hashes against the decrypted ones from the sender. This confirms that no tampering has occurred during transit, effectively validating transaction integrity.
Digital Signature Standards Regulated by Law
Transactions must comply with standards defined by EU-qualified electronic signatures law and similar regulations worldwide. Compliance with these standards ensures the legal validity of digital signatures across different global jurisdictions, including electronically-signed contracts. These standards define how certain types of digital signatures should function and stipulate guidelines around encryption methods.
For example, using Advanced Electronic Signatures (AES) adds identity verification procedures like face identity verification techniques, which together contribute to making online transactions secure and reliable.
Digital signatures have revolutionised how we authenticate documents and transactions, helping accelerate and further secure countless functions that many businesses and professionals rely on in their day-to-day operations.
- The Business Sector: Businesses globally have embraced digital signature technology to expedite processes while maintaining security. Signing contracts or legal documents electronically saves time, eliminates geographical barriers, and reduces reliance on physical paperwork.
- Governments: In the realm of governance and policy, digital signatures hold immense value. Governments worldwide leverage public key infrastructure (PKI) for secure communication within departments and with citizens by providing trusted digital certificates that effectively authenticate senders’ identities.
- Financial Institutions: Banks and financial institutions use digital signatures to verify the authenticity of financial transactions and ensure digital communication security. Digital signatures provide evidence of origin, identity, and status of electronically-based transactions and, in many cases, make certain documents or transactions legally binding.
- Healthcare Providers: Hospitals, clinics, and healthcare providers use digital signatures to improve treatment processes and data security. Digital signatures streamline processes by eliminating the need for physical signatures and paper-based documentation, leading to faster and more efficient transactions. Such signatures also meet HIPAA compliance standards, helping secure Protected Health Information (PHI) from unauthorised access and impermissible disclosures.
- Cybersecurity Professionals: Cybersecurity professionals frequently use digital signature systems for identity verification tasks alongside encryption services. This provides robust data protection during transmission with sender authentication, thereby ensuring data integrity without compromising the speed or efficiency of operations.
Types of Digital Signatures
There are three main types of digital signatures – simple, advanced, and qualified – each with its level of security and use cases.
- Simple Digital Signature: A simple digital signature is the most basic type of digital signature and is not protected by any encryption method. It is the electronic equivalent of a scanned wet signature or an email signature.
- Advanced Digital Signature: An advanced digital signature is linked to specific signers and provides a higher level of security than a simple digital signature. It uses Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) standards to provide a high level of security and universal acceptance.
- Qualified Digital Signature: A qualified digital signature is the most secure type of digital signature and requires a more rigorous level of identity assurance through digital certificates. It is legally binding in many countries and holds the same value as traditional handwritten signatures.
Overall, digital signatures are a type of electronic signature based on PKI standards, ensuring that a message’s contents have not been changed or altered in transit.
Digital Signature vs. Electronic Signature
Though commonly referred to as one and the same, digital and electronic signatures constitute two separate entities within e-signing.
Basics of Electronic Signatures
An electronic signature is a broad concept that includes any electronically made mark intended to sign a document. This mark can range from typing your name at the end of an email, clicking a checkbox, or using a stylus on a digital pad. Electronic signatures are used to verify documents or records but do not secure and protect them like digital signatures. In turn, electronic signatures do not necessarily require encryption or digital certificates.
Nuances of Digital Signatures
A digital signature goes beyond simply signing; it securely associates the signer with a document, making forgery near impossible. In short, digital signatures provide a higher level of security through encryption and verification. It employs more sophisticated technology than just an e-signature by leveraging Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) technology for identity verification. In this process, one key encrypts data while another decrypts it, ensuring secure transmission.
Organisations and individuals must be aware of these risks and take appropriate measures to mitigate them.
A comprehensive cybersecurity solution can help check some or all of these boxes, helping to eliminate the risks and vulnerability of digital signatures.
How Proofpoint Can Help
Proofpoint supports organisations with DMARC, an email authentication protocol that provides domain-level protection of the email channel and helps prevent email spoofing, phishing, and other email-based attacks. Proofpoint’s DMARC services enable businesses to gain visibility into who is sending on their behalf, what email is authenticating, what email is not, and why.
Proofpoint’s encryption technology can help protect digital signatures and the associated documents surrounding this activity. Proofpoint Encryption uses cryptographic algorithms such as AES (256-bit) and ECDSA for message encryption and digital signature, respectively. This technology provides a high level of security and reliability to digital signatures, protecting them from forgery and identity theft.
To bolster security measures even further, Proofpoint offers an Email Authentication Kit, which contains detailed guidelines on properly implementing SPF, DKIM, and DMARC records, which are all vital components for secure online communications. Synchronising these technologies can significantly enhance the overall security surrounding an organisation’s use of digital signatures while adhering to compliance regulations.
Contact Proofpoint to learn more about how to keep your digital communications fully secure and protected against advanced cyber threats.