Electronic signatures or e-signatures have become second nature to how we attach identity to documents in the present time. Almost everyone has heard about e-signatures, and many are using them in various fields of life and business every day. Jurisdictions like Europe, China, and the U.S. have legislation that regulates the use of electronic signatures in different legal environments.

But even with strict laws in place, a digital and remote process will always be susceptible to fraud, at least in users’ minds. A conservative client may refuse outright to close a deal with an e-signature, trusting only the traditional wet signature. Are these worries justified? It all depends on the type of electronic signature. Behind every e-signature are processes that determine the level of evidential power and legality. 

The good news is there are only three types of electronic signatures, and all have different applications and security. The distinction is based on the electronic Identification, Authentication, and Trust Services regulation (eIDAS), established in 2016. This regulation determines the legal structure for electronic identification, signatures, seals, and documents throughout the EU and classifies the level of assurance for the different types. 

Simple electronic signature (SES)

Open any document processing or image editing program and draw your signature. Save the file. Congrats, now you have an electronic signature. But you don’t even need to do that, as many attachments offer pre-generated signature images. All you have to do is insert the selected signature and click confirm. The document is now electronically signed by you, regardless of who completed the process. 

At this point, you may be wondering, who would use such a risky and unreliable protocol? Everyone who prioritizes convenience over risk management fits into this category. The signee of such documents exposes both parties to potential fraud, as simple e-signatures don’t verify the person’s identity. You can’t know for sure who signed the document and if the signee is authorized to sign it in the first place.

Advanced electronic signature (AES)

Unlike simple electronic signatures, advanced electronic signatures require identity verification via a key or certificate associated with them. The cert uniquely identifies the signee of the electronic document and is issued by a third-party Certificate Authority (CA). This signature is delivered via a specific service that can offer audit trials and evidence about the transmitted data. The advanced e-signature provides a more secure level of signing compared to the simple e-signature. The risk, in this case, is that someone can access one’s private key and use a signature without the owner’s consent for fraudulent activities.

Qualified electronic signature (QES)

QES is the most secure type of e-signature. It’s equivalent to a traditional wet signature in terms of legal power and identity assertion. Qualified electronic electronics follow the same cryptographic protocols as the advanced electronic signatures but also meet additional requirements defined in eIDAS regulations. 

When it comes to mortgage or big-money deals, QES is the typical choice if you want to go digital. This way, you’ll know for sure that the signee has the legal mandate and is indeed who he claims to be. QES must have past identification of the signee by an audited entity (Certificate Authority). This identification can be completed face-to-face via video chat or in-person.

Difference between electronic and digital signatures

One of the most common questions regarding e-signatures is whether there’s a difference between electronic and digital signatures? And, while the terms are interchangeable in daily communications and writing, they aren’t the same thing. Digital signatures are backed by cryptographic technology, mainly PKI (Public Key Infrastructure).

On the other hand, electronic signatures can be anything from a Word document image to a pre-installed symbol in a program or application. Electronic signatures alone can’t verify and validate the signatory’s identity and don’t guarantee document authenticity.

We can easily differentiate them by the official classification:

  • Simple electronic signatures (SES) – electronic signatures
  • Advanced electronic signatures (AES) – digital signatures
  • Qualified electronic signatures (QES) – digital signatures

As you can see, a digital signature can be an electronic signature, but an electronic signature is not always a digital signature.

What signature do you need?

Now that you know the level of assurance of each type of signature, you can choose the one you need for specific situations. If you’re dealing with business and financial documents, the obvious choice would be an advanced or qualified electronic signature. The digital signature identifies the signatory and guarantees the integrity of the signed paper. However, if you need just a reading confirmation for attending an event, for example, SES will suffice.

How to get a digital signature?

At SSL Dragon, we offer Email and document signing certificates that digitally secure your electronic mail and papers with state-of-the-art encryption. All our email and document certificates are FDA ESG compliant and are compatible with numerous email clients and document processing programs. Best of all, they’re affordable and available for both individuals and companies to satisfy all your needs. Digital signatures will streamline your workflow and protect your documents from being altered.