Signatures Explained

The term signatures carry a lot of different meanings, ranging from handwritten signatures to advanced electronic signatures. Each signature brings forward a variety of advantages and disadvantages. That is why understanding signatures is essential for you to evaluate which signature is best for what document.

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Electronic Signatures vs Digital Signatures Explained

To better understand electronic and digital signatures, you need to understand signatures in general. Let's take a look at the evolution of the signature - from handwritten, to electronic, and finally to digital signatures.

Handwritten signatures explained:

Handwritten signatures are created by individuals who make their mark by hand on paper using ink.

This is a method that most people are familiar with and historically has been the most accepted way of legally binding a person to a contractual commitment.

To confirm the identity of the signer, another individual (co-signer or witness) is introduced. The co-signer must be present at the time of signing and by co-signing, they confirm the identity of the first signer.

Despite being far from perfect and open to forgery from the outset, handwritten signatures did serve their purpose for a while. However, non-repudiation is very difficult with handwritten signatures as it requires a forensic handwriting expert to prove non-repudiation.

Global Legal Acceptance


Electronic Signatures Explained

The emergence of digital processes in business transactions led to the need for electronic signatures. However, with the absence of global standards, different opinions have created confusion in technology law regarding electronic signatures.

While many countries accept electronic signatures, the absence of an official standard leaves them more open to forgery, and non-repudiation is virtually non-existent. In these cases, authenticity can only be established with supporting evidence.

An electronic signature is essentially a digital image affixed to an electronic message. To put it simply, it's like when you sign off an email with your name, such as 'Best, John.' In many instances of eSign law, this type of signature still holds the sender accountable for the content, making it legally binding under statutory provisions for ordinary electronic signatures.

While electronic signatures are fast, user-friendly, and convenient, they are a stepping-stone technology, and their days are numbered. If you're going to sign a legal contract that could end up in court, it is best to use an advanced eSignature or digital signature.

Global Legal Acceptance




Frequently Asked Question:

What type of signature is it when you print and sign a document, then scan and e-mail it?

This question presents another interesting case on how modern technology can create confusion in the absence of updated law.

The fact is, without the presence of the original paper document that has the wet-ink signature on it, the electronic copy is nothing more than a basic electronic signature. Therefore, the signature is open to scrutiny and has no standing in a court of Law.

Instead of asking a customer to print, sign, scan and email a document, rather circulate the document via workflow and sign it with an auditable digital signature.

Digital Signatures Explained

Digital signatures are also known as advanced electronic signatures (AES), qualified electronic signatures (QES) or trusted electronic signatures.

Across the world, digital signatures are fast becoming the only legally accepted replacement for handwritten signatures. Digital signatures offer inherent security and non-repudiation, which cannot be found in electronic signatures.

Digital signatures use a technology known as public-key infrastructure (PKI) cryptography. This technology addresses non-repudiation in a court of Law, protects the integrity of documents, and makes them tamper-evident.

Global Legal Acceptance




Digital signature layers

Electronic signature layer
The top layer of a SigniFlow digital signature is an electronic, graphical image. This represents an individual's handwritten signature. The image only has to be captured once, after which the system automatically layers the graphic image in the digital signature.

PKI signing key
Next, the top-middle (yellow) layer embeds a body of evidence about the signer and the process in the X.509 certificate. It embeds the signer's identity, a trusted timestamp, and the public key needed to verify the signature.

Digital signature layer
The bottom-middle (red) layer stores security information about the document and the signing ceremony. When the signature is applied, an encrypted hash of the document is created, which is signed and embedded in the PDF.

Electronic document
Every time the signature is verified, a new hash code for the document is created and compared to the original one. If even one Bit in the document has changed, the verification will fail, making the document tamper-evident.

What is the difference between Electronic and Digital Signatures

Advanced Electronic Signatures Explained

Advanced Electronic Signatures (AES or AESign) and Qualified Electronic Signatures (QES) are standard digital signatures but are higher-class digital certificates.

Depending on your country, these certificates are usually issued in a face-to-face meeting. The RA (Registration Authority) follows each CA's (Certificate Authority) pre-approved process to validate identity before issuing Advanced Electronic Signatures or Qualified Electronic Signatures certificates. These certificates are always stored on a highly secure and protected device, like a FIPS140-2 Level 2 or 3 HSM (Hardware Security Module).

SigniFlow is certificate agnostic, meaning it can sign with any of these certificates. Once the certificate is issued, you set up your SigniFlow account to point to the location of your certificate. Every time you sign, SigniFlow uses your personal digital certificate to cryptographically sign the document.

These types of signatures are the most compliant of all signatures for electronic documents.

How to verify Digital Signatures Explained

Verifying a digital signature created requires minimal effort.

First, open the document in Adobe Acrobat® Reader. The top bar will indicate the validity of the signature on the left. If the document has changed since it was signed, the Adobe Trust indicators will show red or orange exclamation marks. This indicates that the document has been tampered with.

Then, by opening the pen icon in the middle of the left vertical bar of the PDF reader, you can view additional audit information, such as the signer's identity, TSA (Timestamp Authority) timestamp, LTV (Long-term Validation) and other properties.

SigniFlow only uses Adobe Approved Trust List (AATL) certificates to sign documents, which means every signature in the document is a digital signature that can be verified.

Additionally, you can find the signature in the document and click on it. The signature validation status, containing all of the signatory's information, will pop up. By going into the Signature Properties section, you can view further details of the certificate.

How to verify a digital signaure

eSignatures Explained

The only eSignature platform that allows you to choose between Electronic Signatures and Digital Signatures at no additional cost.

SigniFlow offers two types of signatures to all users. Users can set the signature type per recipient when setting up a workflow.

When it comes to security and compliance, SigniFlow has your back. You can request the faster, more convenient Electronic Signature for basic contracts and internal approvals or ensure maximum security and regulation compliance with SigniFlow's trusted free Digital Signature.

In addition, SigniFlow supports all types of internationally accredited Advanced Electronic Signatures (AES) and European Union-accredited eIDAS Qualified Electronic Signatures (QES).


Businesses everywhere have spoken - and we've listened. We get you. Dealing with customers and suppliers, each with their own systems and processes, can be a tedious task.

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