Tech DeveloPment

Electronic Signature Technology Massively Improves Security

Electronic Signature Technology

The time it takes to obtain signatures from multiple signatories or to do the rounds in large organizations can be significant, and oftentimes, backlogs can occur. When a decision has been made, depending on that decision, implementation needs to happen quickly. Routing documents manually from person to person is becoming a thing of the past – the process of signing documents can easily be expedited with the use of electronic signatures within SMART documents. These are documents that are based on XML (extensible mark-up language) and have the ability to be combined within the same technologies used in digital signatures, to ensure a tamper seal is included. Thanks to the use of XML, newly created and updated documents can be generated a lot more swiftly than the traditional way. 

What is XML?

XML is fundamentally a tool used for the transport and storage of data. It is a mark-up language (similar to HTML). It was designed so that it would be self-descriptive as well as being able to transport and store large amounts of data. The great part about XML is that applications based on this language will work as they should, even if data is removed or added, and it does not matter what version of an application is in use, XML has been constructed in such a way that it will still work – hence, extensible. Furthermore, it simplifies data transport, data sharing, data availability and platform changes too. XML makes upgrading to a new browser, a new application or even a new operating system simple and easy, without losing any data.

Data Ownership and Security

An organization’s recorded information belongs to that organizations and is stored in its systems. But the mere existence of a record in their system does not confirm ownership and is not enough to settle a dispute over its content, for example. Without any proof of the authenticity of a message, an organization cannot hold an employee, or all employees, of the company to which it outsourced, legally accountable with regards to any actions documented within electronic records. In the current times, this is concerning, and people should have a lot higher level of assurances when it comes to electronic documentation and signatures. Ensuring the use of online tools that cannot be tampered with is most certainly one of the key responsibilities of organizations. 

Consider, for example, the recently exposed bank mortgage signatory fraud in which banks actually created fraudulent documents said to be signed by mortgage holders. If these were signed electronically via a suitable software provider, there would be no question relating to whether these signatures were authentic or not. Government regulations are now requiring increasingly strong assurances relating to accountability and signed documentation. Another illustration of an ideal use case might be an employee submitting a purchase request that also includes a specific requirement for that purchase. That employee must be held accountable for the contents within the request, as well as the specifications. Then, when the employee’s manager approves the purchase, they should also become accountable. This needs to be possible to prove if there are any queries and is just one small example but imagine the numerous scenarios in which this type of dilemma could occur. There is a solution though – and that is electronic signatures.

Security Improved

In the above situation, the manager would have approved the purchase by signing. This electronic signature would be validated and applied, and there would be no possibility for fraud or forgery, due to the fact that the signature could only have been produced using that manager’s private key. This is just one of the reasons that e-signatures should be used instead of manual signatures. The security of these signatures is drastically improved and the audit trail is automatically applied. In order to implement this within an organization, they would need an infrastructure capable of supporting XML-Signature and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). but, because this is a fairly expensive ask, electronic signature technology offered by software companies is the answer.

XML-Signature enables every signature to apply to separate sections of one entire document even if additional parts are added. If additions are made, previous pages are not invalidated so long as the signed areas are not tampered with or changed in any way. This just shows the intelligent nature of electronic signatures, adding to their heightened security features.

Electronic signature technologies do differ according to the ECM platform in use, however they do always need enhanced user authentication, sometimes in the form of a supplementary password layer in order to verify they are indeed the correct approver of a specific task or workflow stage.

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