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Introduction

Digital Signature is widely used for documents pertaining to government agencies and organizations. A digital signature offers a protected and secure way to sign important documents which can then be transferred or saved digitally for future reference. For making use of the digital signature, it is essential to obtain a Digital Signature Certificate.

A digital signature certificate (DSC) can help you sign a document online, which means that you do not have to be physically present to submit an important form. One can apply for this at any of the registered certifying authorities. After receiving the DSC along with the USB Token attachment, one can begin using it for signing relevant PDF documents online.

DSCs are very commonly used now, allowing you to carry out a range of important document-related activities online. Some of them include government-related applications which can be done using your DSC. It makes the processes far more convenient and can be carried out from home. One of the common usages of DSC is registering a new enterprise or business. For those who are planning to join India’s start-up market, a DSC is essential to have.

Understanding Digital Signatures

Digital signatures can also be called electronic “fingerprints.” These come in the form of a coded message that helps in securely associating a signer with the document in any recorded transaction. Digital signatures have a standard, accepted format, which is called Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). This aids in providing high-security standards and universal acceptance.

Digital signatures are like handwritten signatures which are unique to every signer. Most Digital signature solution providers have a specific protocol called PKI. It requires the usage of a mathematical algorithm for generating two long numbers, which are called keys. One key is public, and another key is private.

When a signer signs any document electronically, the signature gets created with the help of the signer’s private key. The mathematical algorithm is encryption which creates data that matches the signed document. The encrypted data which results from this process is called the digital signature. The signature also comes marked with the exact time of document signing. The digital signature is invalidated if the document is changed or amended post-signing.

For protecting the signature’s integrity, PKI mandates that the keys must be created, conducted, and securely saved. This, in turn, necessitates the services of a reliable Certificate Authority (CA).

Features of Digital Signatures

Digital signatures are primarily used for achieving three key goals related to information security. These are integrity, authentication, and non-repudiation.

Data integrity - Data integrity is a crucial aspect of data transfer. It ensures that the message delivered to the recipient is the same as the message delivered by the sender. While using the internet for message transfer, there's always the risk of alteration to original messages, whether done deliberately or accidentally. With the help of data integrity, such risks can be mitigated as you can check if the message received has been altered.

Authentication - While receiving a sensitive file, it may not be enough to verify if the information contained in it is unaltered. It makes sense to also verify the authenticity of the sender. Thus, it raises the need to have a mechanism for authenticating the source of the file.

Non-repudiation - For data exchanges where you don’t wish the senders to disown transmissions that they sent some time ago. For instance, if a report has been submitted that turns out to be fraudulent, the sender has to own up to it and can’t deny having sent it.

How to apply for and obtain a digital signature?

Let’s understand how you can obtain a DSC:

There are two ways of obtaining a DSC, offline and online. For those who wish to use the offline method of getting a DSC, all they need to do is visit a registered Certified Authority (CA). A registered CA is the only authority who is permitted to issue such documents. It is easy to find out whether a CA is genuine or not. You can cross verify their name listed on the Ministry of Corporate Affairs website within the registered CAs category.

For getting a DSC offline through a CA, you have to:

  • Fix an appointment with the CA
  • Furnish all essential documents such as Aadhaar card, PAN card, etc
  • Fill in the requisite forms and make fee payment that is quoted by the CA

In case, you have eKYC documents already linked to your Aadhar Card, you don’t have to provide physical copies of the same.

Another way for getting your DSC is by making an application online. For this, you can go to the website of the registered CA, within the section on DSCs. Then, you can select the type of DSC you require, post which you will see the relevant form. You might have to save this form before filling it up.

Once you have filled the form, you have to get a cheque or demand draft with the name of the Local Registering Authority (LRA) on it. The form, along with the cheque or DD, have to be physically mailed to the LRA’s office. It normally takes about 2 days for the approval of DSC to come through. After this, you can use the DSC as per your need.

Usage of DSC For Signing a Document

Once you have your DSC, you can use it to sign a document quite easily. While signing a PDF document, you must begin by opening the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Reader. Under the tools option, select the certificate option from the available menu. Once you see the menu bar, there will be three options under it. These are digitally signed, timestamp and validate all. You have to select the digital sign option.

In the next step, you will see a dialogue box. Click ok and once you see a plus sign appearing on the mouse’s pointer, use the mouse to drag and drop a box on the section where you wish your signature to be seen. Once you set the box, you will see a dialogue box which asks you to select the DSC. Select the required DSC and then select sign.

After you place the signature where you need, you can proceed to save the PDF as a signed copy and then send it back to whoever you need to send it to.

If you wish to digitally sign an MS Word document, you can open the needed document, scroll to the bottom of the document where the signature has to be placed. Then, click so that the cursor is seen. Then, select the insert option available in the menu bar. There will be another option as the Signature line, which you need to click. A dialogue box should appear and you have to click ok. When another dialogue box appears, you must select the desired DSC in the same way as done in the PDF. Select the signature option, and then select Sign. The signature will then appear in the document. Save this and share with the concerned party to complete the process.

Differences Between Digital Signature and Electronic Signature

Electronic signatures (eSignatures) is a wide category which contains many kinds of electronic signatures. It includes digital signatures, which are a unique technology implementation of electronic signatures. Digital signatures and eSignature solutions let you sign documents and help in authenticating the signer. However, both have unique purposes, technical implementation, geographical usage, and cultural and legal acceptance of digital signatures vis-a-vis other kinds of eSignatures.

Specifically, the usage of digital signature technology for eSignatures significantly varies across countries which follow open, technology-neutral eSignature laws. Some of them include the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. There are also few countries which do not follow tiered eSignature models that choose locally defined standards based on digital signature technology. Countries in the European Union, South America, and Asia are some of them. Some industries tend to support specific standards based on digital signature technology.

Using Digital Signatures for Signing PDFs

With the help of digital signatures, you can send documents to users for signing. This makes online agreements legally-binding. The user can use any device for signing the document, such as a smartphone or tablet or a computer. When it comes to a cloud-based signature solution, the signature can be used in all browsers and usually there is no need to install.

In a digital signature solution, at the time of using a verified electronic identity (eID) for signature, the user has to identify himself/herself, and once all the users have signed, there is a notification sent for completion.

Users can then deliver these signed documents to the correct recipients in a convenient and time-saving manner.

FAQs

1. What is a digital signature?

A digital signature is an e-signature which can be used for authenticating the identity of the message sender or the signer of any document. It helps in ensuring that the original message content or document that is sent remains unchanged. Digital signatures can be easily transported and there is no scope to imitate these. The capability to make sure that the original signed message reaches the rightful recipient means that the sender will not be easily able to disclaim it later.

2. What is a digital signature certificate?

Digital Signature Certificates (DSC) is an electronic certificate such as driving license, passport etc. Certificates can be used as an individual’s identity proof for specific purposes. For instance, a Passport helps in identifying someone as a citizen of the country; who is allowed to legally travel to other countries. Similarly, a Digital Signature Certificate can be electronically presented for proving your identity, to get access to information or services online or for signing certain digital documents.

3. How are digital signature certificates used?

A Digital Signature Certificate helps in authenticating the identity of an individual electronically. It also offers a high level of security for any online transactions by assuring complete privacy of the exchanged information through a Digital Signature Certificate. You can make use of certificates for encrypting information so that only the intended recipient has access to it. You can sign the information digitally to assure that the recipient has not been changed while in transit, and also verify the identity of the sender of the message.

4. Do digital signature certificates get legally accepted in India?

Yes, after the enactment of the Information Technology Act 2000 in India, Digital Signature Certificates are considered to be legally valid in India. Digital Signature Certificates are issued by licensed Certifying Authorities under the Ministry of Information Technology, Government of India as per the Information Technology Act.

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