What is an electronic signature?

E-signatures are digital signatures – as the name implies – that help companies and personal entities to assert that the electronic signature signing a particular document or process is indeed belonging to the person or company that needed to sign it. In short, e-signatures are handwritten signatures in digital form. 

There are three main types of electronic signatures, each of them valid in a court of justice – Simple Electronic Signature (SES), Advanced Electronic Signature (AES) and Qualified Electronic Signature (QES).

What do the types of electronic signature represent?

Three types of electronic signatures represent the three levels of security offered by these signatures, as well as their indirect standing in court. Signing documents represents a legal guarantee and as such, electronic signatures need to have the highest standing in court in order to dispel any doubt over the authenticity of the signature of an important document. 

All of them however stand up in court – due to a very specific EU directive that prohibits the dismissal of signatures just because they are electronic or because they are not of the highest type, the QES.

And as you might have guessed, they offer different levels of authentication, with the QES being the highest level of authentication.

As a note, in legal terms, the QES is considered the digital form of a handwritten signature.

Which e-signature offers the best protection for me? QES, right?

It is not necessary to have the best level of protection. It very much depends on your requirement and ease of use.

Implementing a QES for simple electronic documents defeats the purpose because of the complexity of obtaining a QES signature in the first place, not to mention the cost of it due to the required documents and certificates necessary in order to obtain such a signature.

In most cases, especially for personal entities, the Advance Electronic Signature – AES will do the job just fine, including in court should the need arise.

Only businesses such as law firms, banks, insurance companies… would really benefit from having a Qualified Electronic Signature for their documents.

What do I use an e signature for anyway?

E-signatures are usually require for sensitive documents where authentication is required in order to guarantee that the signature is indeed the one of the intended recipient and signatory.

Think of bank documents, credit applications, insurance policies, medical records…

Why is it so hard to obtain an e-signature?

Obtaining an electronic signature is not hard – it only takes a few steps in fact.

As a rule of thumb, it depends on the level of signature that you wish to obtain, but some issuers of e-signatures offer simple procedures to obtain e-signatures by just uploading your personal information, a copy of your ID and some extra details in order to confirm the authenticity of your e-signature.

All right - I obtained an e-signature. How does it work?

Electronic signatures work in two ways – either with a token, or completely digital.

In the first case, a token is a physical key, placed usually on an USB stick, which is then connected to a device on which you will sign a specific document.

In the case of completely digital signatures, an e-signature is used to sign the document that needs to be certified. The signature you used to sign the document contains a private key (which is only yours) and a public key. These two specific keys are used to identify you, and by matching the information in an online database, the entity that verifies your signature compares the information contained in those two keys. If the information matches and is not tampered with, then the signature is considered valid.