What's the difference between digital signatures and electronic signatures?

August 6, 2014

3 minute read

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You may see the terms digital signature and electronic signature used interchangeably, but be aware that these are not the same thing. They definitely have similar aspects, but both are created differently.

Looking at the different signatures

There are two avenues to providing signatures within PDF documents: one is called an electronic signature and the other, a digital signature.

An electronic signature generally consists of an image, essentially a representation of an actual handwritten signature. It is applied to a PDF electronically to provide a visual confirmation that a company officer or decision-maker has approved the document.

A digital signature includes a certificate and requires authentication from a signing server. In a PDF file that is digitally signed, a user can click on the document and—depending on the verification preferences defined for the document—check to ensure that the credentials are valid. If the preferences so indicate, the signature can be confirmed by the selected signing server, verifying authenticity.

Adlib’s role in digital and electronic signatures

Adlib provides support for both electronic and digital signatures in PDFs, as part of an automated workflow. While Adlib does enable digital signature capabilities, the certificate required must be purchased through a third party. Many Adlib customers have business requirements that routinely require signatures being applied internally within business workflows that generate PDFs. For example, if a document is being circulated through the organization and it requires validation, the signing can be applied automatically at the correct stage (using either an electronic signature or a digital signature with the appropriate verification preferences attached).

As an example, perhaps an insurance company staff member is issuing a claims request beyond the limit of his or her authority. A supervisor could inspect the claims document and validate it by providing authorization in the form of a digital or electronic signature, streamlining the process and providing the customer with faster service.

This process allows the knowledge worker to concentrate on processing claims, rather than printing papers and getting others to sign them, and then scanning them back into the system. Read more about the other enhancements that can be automated with Adlib PDF in this blog post.

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