Digital Signatures

What is a digital signature? Is it secure? Here are questions and answers about digital signatures.

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Digital Signatures is dedicated to providing services related to advance directives.  We provide services that make use of the ultimate convenience of the Internet and the latest in secure encryption technologies.  In the future, our services will employ the use of digital signatures to digitally sign and encrypt the documents created here, including wills (Last Will and Testament), Expatriate Wills, Power of Attorney and Living Wills, and to verify the authenticity of the member.  That is, once digital signatures and their related technologies have evolved to become legally recognized for all such legal documents.  It is only a matter of time.  Below are some questions and answers related to digital signatures.

What is a digital signature?

A digital signature is a convenient, time-saving, and secure way of signing electronic documents.  It is an electronic signature which can be used in all types of electronic information transfer.  The differences between digital signatures and other electronic signatures are significant, not only in terms of process and results, but also because those differences make a digital signature more serviceable for legal purposes.  However, some electronic signatures, though perhaps legally recognizable as signatures, may not be as secure as digital signatures, and may lead to uncertainty and disputes.

Digital signatures are based on mathematical theory and the use of algorithms.  They require that the holder of the signature has a "two key" system for signing and verification (one private and the other public).  The important component in this picture is in having a verifiable, trustworthy entity to create and distribute digital signatures. These entities are called "Certification Authorities" (CA).

Digital signature technology opens up a whole new range of possibilities for businesses, government and individuals to change the way it they handle transactions electronically.  The ability to transmit or store electronic messages and documents carrying legal binding signatures will allow businesses, government and individuals to conduct transactions and to enter into binding contracts entirely by electronic means.

What does a digital signature look like?

-------BEGIN SIGNATURE------
------END SIGNATURE------

What is an electronic document?

An electronic document is any document that is generated or stored on a computer, such as a letter, a contract, or a will. In addition, an electronic document can be an image, such as a blueprint, a survey plat, a drawing, or even a photograph. A Digital signature can be used to sign these documents.

Does that mean that the authenticity of any electronic document can be verified by a digital signature?

Yes, but only if the document was originally signed using a digital signature.

What is it like to actually sign an electronic document?

It is a simple process and may vary slightly in the software you use, but your digital signature software does all the work. You select the signature option, then select the document, and finally enter your secret Authorization Code. Everything is accomplished electronically; you do not take a pen in hand and sign a paper.

Can you actually see the signer's handwritten signature?

No, there is no relationship to the signer's handwritten signature. While there's more to it behind the scenes, the visible portion of the digital signature is the signer's name, title and firm name, along with the certificate serial number and the Certification Authority name.

How am I identified as the signer?

When you use your digital signature, you create a matched pair of keys. One is the "private" key, which is typically installed on your computer. The private key is used only by you and is required during the signing process. The second key is the "public" key. The public key is available for use by anyone wishing to authenticate documents you sign. The public key will "read" the digital signature created by the private key and verify the authenticity of documents created with it. It would be similar to the process of accessing a safety deposit box. Your key must work with the bank's key before opening the box.

If my private key is stored on my computer, can't someone sign or access my documents without my permission by getting access to the computer?

No. Your private key is encrypted when it is stored on your computer. When you sign an electronic document, you enter a digital signature Authorization Code to decrypt the private key for as long as it takes to sign the document. If someone learns of your Authorization Code and also has access to the computer holding your private key, the integrity of your private key is compromised. In this case you would revoke your digital signature certificate and obtain another. This would be the same as reporting a stolen or lost credit card or passport.

Can a digital signature be forged?

No. It is protected by several layers of highly complex encryption.

Many people believe that a handwritten signature is unique to the signer and to the pieces of paper which hold it. However, what if someone produces a good likeness of your handwritten signature? Or, what if on a long contract, someone changes the text of the pages previous to the signature page? In these instances, the signature is valid, but the document has been altered. With digital signatures, forgery is next to impossible -- much more difficult than forging a handwritten signature.

First, a digital signature is more of a process than just affixing a signature. For example, when the document is "digitally signed," the digital software scans the document and creates a calculation which represents the document. This calculation becomes part of the "digital signature." When the recipient authenticates the signature, a similar process is carried out. The sender's and the receiver's calculations are then compared. If the results are the same, the signature is valid; if they are different, the signature is not valid.

What is a digital signature certificate?

A digital signature certificate is a computer-based record that identifies the subscriber, contains the public key, and is digitally signed by the Certification Authority. The digital signature certificate must be associated with both a private key and a public key. When you publish the certificate, you identify yourself to the Certification Authority by providing it with your public key.

How do I get a digital signature certificate?

You may obtain a digital signature certificate directly from a Certification Authority, or from the software or website which uses digital signature technology.  You will be required to provide information used to verify your identity and protect you against unauthorized use of your signature.

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