How Do Digital Signatures Work?

Digital signatures can help you secure and safeguard the integrity of your data as paperless, online interactions become increasingly common. You can better protect your information, papers, and transactions by understanding and employing digital signatures. For the typical user and business, creating a digital signature is a simple and uncomplicated process.

Let’s start with the purpose of a non-digital signature. A non-digital signature (wet signature) is applied to a paper document by hand to provide evidence that a person has acted with the intent of commitment. The physical signature is legal evidence of an agreement to whatever is being signed.

A digital signature has the same purpose. But it applies to digital assets and documents. This is achieved through a mechanism known as public-key encryption.

Understanding Key Terms

The first step is to understand encryption. Think of encryption as scrambling data using clever mathematics that hides information. In the digital world, if we replace the word encrypted with the word signed, we are talking about a digital signature. While it’s not necessary to understand the intricate and complex details of public-key encryption, some basic terms will help with better understanding the process of digital signatures.

The main properties of a digitally signed document are unique identification and proof that it was signed (encrypted) and in no way altered after signing. If one had to imagine counting every digital record that has and will ever exist, the number is infinite. Generating the unique identification is accomplished through a ‘hashing’ process.

  • Hash: This is a process (function) that uniquely identifies every digitally signed record. Each document gets a unique fingerprint which is an alphanumeric identifier, similar to a car registration plate.
  • Public-key Encryption: The method uses paired keys. The public key encrypts the document, and a private key decrypts the data to ensures data integrity, confidentiality, and authenticity. The keys also define the signer’s digital identity.
  • Digital Certificate: The digital certificate contains the user’s or company’s public key verified through a certificate authority (CA).
  • Certificate Authority (CA) – A trusted third party that validates the user’s or company’s identity. With a valid digital identity, the CA issues a digital certificate.

All these components make up the framework of the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) used by digital signatures.

Getting Started

A computer, a smartphone, or a tablet, as well as an internet connection, are all you need to digitally sign a document. The whole procedure is completed online. Next, you will need a digital signing certificate, which you can get from a reputable Certificate Authority. After installing the digital certificate on your device, you can use the digital signature feature available in most document or email applications.

The Digital Signing Process

The Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is the backbone of secure digital signatures. It uses the paired keys in the following way when signing digital content.

  1. The document is selected for signing in an application or document platform, on the device where the digital certificate is installed.
  2. The device calculates the unique identifier (through the ‘hashing’ process).
  3. This ID is encrypted with the user’s private key and creates the digital signature.
  4. The digital file is sent to the recipient who opens the document in a compatible application that identifies the file is digitally signed.
  5. The recipient’s device uses the private key sent with the document to decrypt the hash value.
  6. The decrypted document is then viewed by the recipient.
  7. If the document cannot be decrypted, it indicates the file has been tampered with.

Digital signatures verify a digital document was not modified between the time it was signed until the time it is received and viewed by the intended recipient.

Securing Your Documents

KRIS Document Management System (DMS) uses reliable digital signature technology to prevent any risk of compromise to your organization’s digital content. Our secure DMS platform offers full compliance, timestamping, traceability, and nonrepudiation for optimal efficiency and productivity.






Find out how a Document Management System can simplify your everyday office processes.