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Sep 13, 2021
4 minutes read

How Digital Certificates Can Add Trust Into Your Contract Signing Process

As more and more everyday interactions make their way online - whether they involve individuals, businesses, or a mixture of the two - it has become more important than ever to verify digital identities.

Particularly in light of the recent increase in the number of people working remotely, many businesses are on-boarding and maintaining relationships with customers without ever having met them in person. For example, between March and November 2020, around 60% of individuals confirmed that they were accessing more services online. 

Today, even contract signatures take place remotely. However, for contracts to be legally binding, there must be some proof that the signee is the person that they are claiming to be. One way of achieving this is through the use of a digital certificate.

What Is a Digital Certificate?

A digital certificate is a form of electronic authentication that links electronic signature validation data to a natural person and confirms, at the very least, the name or the pseudonym of that person. The certificate is a type of file used to associate cryptographic key pairs - one public, the other private - with entities such as websites, individuals, or organizations. 

Don’t worry if this all sounds a little complicated. The most important thing to know about digital certificates is that they contain a kind of virtual fingerprint that is unique to a person or entity and which can be used to validate their identity. Essentially, they confirm that the individual signing a digital document is who they say they are.  

The public key accompanies the certificate, while the private key is kept secure. The individual owner of the private key can then use it to apply an e-signature to digital documents, which can then be validated by the public key. What’s more, with a digital certificate, every modification to the original document can be traced, meaning it cannot be altered after an e-signature has been applied without a record being left. 

What Is a Certificate Authority?

Digital certificates are issued by special certificate authorities (CAs). CAs are trusted organizations that verify digital entities. Each year, CAs issue millions of digital certificates to provide greater trust and security when using online services. For Sign, we use GlobalSign, a respected identity services company, for all our digital certificate needs. 

Certificates can also expire or be withdrawn, meaning a document is no longer valid and should not necessarily be trusted any longer. If you’re wondering how long digital certificates can be valid, the answer is that this all depends on the CA that issued the certificate. Whatever the length of time, it is important that individuals and businesses renew their certificates before they expire.

How Do I Get a Digital Certificate?

One of the most common reasons why digital certificates are required is when an individual wants to sign a legally binding contract without physically putting pen to paper. A certificate-based digital signature uses the aforementioned encrypted key pairing to verify the signee’s identity. Fortunately, discovering how to sign a PDF with a digital signature certificate is straightforward. Modern signature software can act as a CA and provide individuals with the verification required. 

Before being granted their own digital certificate, individuals may be sent a certificate signing request, which will contain all the information (such as their name, organization, and country) that the CA will use to create the digital certificate. It also contains the public key that will be included in their certificate. 

Even if a certificate has been granted, individuals must know how to check it to ensure that it remains valid. This is easily achieved by finding the relevant signature and clicking “Signature Details.” 

How Digital Certificates Empower Your Document Signing Solution

In the modern world, businesses must offer individuals the convenience and speed provided by digital signatures, but they cannot afford to compromise on the security that physical signatures are built upon. Using a qualified e-signature based on a verified digital certificate makes it possible to combine speed and trust. 

Find out how Sign can provide you with a seamless e-signature experience, enabling you to send contracts that are time-stamped and secured with a digital certificate. 

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