Understanding the Difference Between Digital Signatures and E-Signatures

digital signature or esignature

With the increased need to do business online and virtually, the need for secure ways to share and collaborate on documents is more important than ever. Likewise, doing business often requires written statements of work or contracts that require legal signatures. This post explores tools for legally signing documents online. First, though, we want to set a foundation for what a digital signature is versus an electronic signature. Aren’t they the same?

What is a Digital Signature?

A digital signature is a type of electronic signature that uses encryption to secure the identity of the signer and the integrity of the document, which typically is a PDF. Unlike an e-signature, which simply identifies the signer, a digital signature uses a combination of public and private key infrastructure (PKI) to verify the signer’s identity.

Digital signatures are typically handled through a highly secure online platform, such as DocuSign. DocuSign has been around since 2003, which is an eternity in internet years. Most see it as one of the most trusted cloud-based solutions for handling contracts and documents that require signatures. Banks, real estate companies, employers, government agencies, and more use it to handle sensitive documents. DocuSign offers free trials and various subscription plans, which are designed for individuals, small businesses, medium-sized companies, and enterprise-level organizations. DocuSign is one of the oldest online digital signature platforms, but there are many others that are good as well: PandaDoc, Zoho Sign, and HelloSign (acquired by Dropbox), to name a few.

What is an Esignature?

An e-signature, also known as an electronic signature, is a digital version of a traditional handwritten signature. E-signatures can be used to sign documents electronically, eliminating the need for paper copies. They typically lack recognition as legally binding.

Similar to e-signatures, digital signatures also sign documents electronically. However, digital signatures are more secure than e-signatures because they use cryptographic methods to verify the identity of the signer.

To electronically sign a document, you can find many options online, including the cloud-based option from PDF.Live. They offer free and subscription models as well for not only signing PDFs but also editing them and converting them to and from Microsoft Word. The e-signature is not as secure, as we’ve mentioned, but some organizations will accept an e-signature for things like job proposals, quotes for goods, and receipts.

What is an Encrypted Signature

An encrypted signature is a digital signature that uses encryption to protect the information contained in the signature. Encrypted signatures verify the identity of the signer and ensure that the information contained in the signature has not been altered. Encryption uses coding to “scramble” data so that only authorized parties can access the information.

In a related post, we talk about email encryption tools, particularly for small businesses.

What Tools are Best for Signing PDFs?

Digital signatures are created using public key cryptography, which uses a pair of keys — a public key that anyone can use to encrypt a message, and a private key that only the intended recipient can decrypt. When you create a digital signature, your computer creates a unique code that bases itself on the content of the document, your private key, and the algorithms used by the signing software. The recipient of the signed document then uses your public key to verify the signature. This confirms no one tampered with the document before receipt.

For digital signatures, these are the most well-known, most-used cloud platforms (sorted alphabetically, from Investopedia):

  • DocuSign (best for contracts)
  • eSignatures.io (best for mobile devices)
  • HelloSign (best for freelancers/contractors)
  • PandaDoc (best overall)

E-signatures, on the other hand, are simply electronic versions of handwritten signatures. Using a variety of methods, you create them by typing your name into a document, drawing your signature using a mouse or touchscreen, or scanning and uploading an image of your signature. While legally binding in some jurisdictions, e-signatures lack the security of digital signatures. In this way, others find it easy to forge them.

For e-signatures, try PDF.Live. It offers free limited daily tasks, including signatures. Also, it has low-cost monthly subscriptions that you can cancel at any time. It requires no software downloads.

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