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What is the Difference between Electronic Signature and Digital Signature?

Often these two terms, "electronic signature" and "digital signature", are misinterpreted by people. They think that both these terms are the same. Let me tell you a fact, they are not. Most of the time, people use them interchangeably without realizing the key difference between electronic signature and digital signature.  

While electronic and digital signatures might seem the same to many people, there are significant differences between them. Businesses have been using electronic communication solutions for many years to authenticate digital identities.

Electronic and digital signatures are also a part of the innovation and play a vital role in authenticating and securing documents. But what are the features that make them apart? What are the key differences between them? If you also find these terms identical, then this article is for you.

Part 1: What is an Electronic Signature?

The US Federal ESIGN Act defines electronic signatures as:

"Electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record."

The main purpose of electronic signatures is similar to that of wet signatures. Like wet signatures, electronic signatures also demonstrate the verification of a person’s will to agree. However, unlike wet signatures, electronic signatures are signed on electronically transmitted forms, documents, contracts, or agreements.

As the definition suggests, electronic signatures are not always in the form of signatures, they can be any sound, symbol, or process that is associated with a particular person.

Part 2: How Does an Electronic Signature Work? 

Electronic signatures’ working is not different from those of wet signatures. However, electronic signatures work on specific criteria that require you to verify certain things before signing documents electronically.

You first have to verify your identity, such as your name, ID card number, etc once you have received a document. Once you have verified the required entities, you can sign the document with your actual signature via a stylus or by your finger on a touch screen.

You can also sign the documents by adding your sound or specific symbols, etc. verification technologies are used by e-signatures to verify that the signatures are authentic and secure. In simpler words, electronic signatures work electronically by substituting handwritten signatures.

Electronic signatures use specific criteria or technology that can bind the signature to the signer’s identity. If there is a need for security, electronic signatures can also use multi-factor authentication to secure the process.

Two components are essential for electronic signatures,

  • The signer’s consent to sign.
  • The documents or records added are correct.

It is obvious that if the signee is to agree to make the contract work, he will not add his electronic signature. Also, if the information mentioned in the contract or agreement is not correct, no one can sign the documents.

Part 3: When to Use an Electronic Signature?

Applications of handwritten signatures have been shifted to electronic signatures. The places where handwritten signatures were used now use electronic signatures to verify a person’s identity or will towards a certain agreement or contract.

With the world being digitized, many operations have also gone digital. Online transactions have replaced in-person transactions. Electronic signatures are also one of them. Over time, handwritten signatures have been replaced by electronic signatures.

Some of the applications of electronic signatures include:

  • Sales contracts require electronic signatures.
  • For HR and employee onboarding.
  • Any business requiring clients to electronically sign the loan applications.
  • Any financial contract.
  • Non-disclosure agreements
  • Any other contract or agreement that requires the person’s consent.

Part 4: How Do You Add an Electronic Signature in PDF?

There are many tools available to add electronic signatures. However, UPDF for Mac is a comprehensive tool that helps you add electronic signatures in PDF for free. It offers multiple features to edit , annotate, and sign PDF files.

This tool allows you to add electronic signatures either by drawing or typing your signatures into the form through a mouse or trackpad. It also enables you to change the color of your e-signatures to add more creativity to your documents.

You can add e-signs to your documents on Mac for free by following the steps:

Step 1: Open UPDF on your Mac and on its main interface, click on the "Open File" button. Browse the PDF file from your computer in which you want to add an e-signature. Upload it in the tool.

open file with updf

Step 2: After the PDF file has been uploaded in UPDF, click on the comment options. It will open a list of different annotating options. From that list, click on the "Sign" icon and select "Create Signature" to add an e-sign.

add signature to pdf

Step 3: After that, you can apply your signature according to your choice. Sign PDF on Mac with this free tool. A box like this will appear. You can either choose to type with a keyboard, draw with a mouse or trackpad.

sign pdf on mac

Step 4: Once you have selected your desired option. You can create an electronic signature and then apply it to add it to the document.

 add electronic signture in PDF

This is how UPDF allows you to add electronic signatures in a PDF on Mac for free. You can benefit from its amazing features.

Advantages of UPDF:

  • It is a free tool. Users don’t have to buy any subscription to continue using its complete features.
  • It has a unique and delightful user interface.
  • Users can save the changes files without watermarks.
  • Compatible with Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS.

Part 5: What is a Digital Signature?

A digital signature is a kind of electronic signature, but it has a significant preference over the latter. Digital signatures are used to secure a document by embedding a fingerprint and encrypting them. If someone tries to tamper with the document, then the digital signature will be invalidated.

Many people are not well aware of digital signatures. For them, digital signatures and electronic signatures are the same. However, digital signatures are highly secured and encrypted so that no one can change the information in the document. A digital signature uses a certificate-based Digital ID to identify the person signing a document

Also, digital signatures use the cryptographic algorithm to

  • Ensure the authenticity of the document and its source.
  • Authenticate personal identity.
  • Assure the document’s information is not changed.

Part 6: How Does a Digital Signature Work?

Digital signatures work by using a private and public key authentication framework. They are required to prove that a digital document was not changed since the time it was signed. This is done by generating a unique hash for the document and then encrypting it by using the private key of the sender.

Digital signature solutions comply with the requirements provided by the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). A digital signature works as:

The provider’s algorithm will generate two sets of long numbers known as a public key and a private key. Once these keys are generated. The provider encrypts the documents using the private key. On the other hand, the receiver will decrypt the same document matching the public key of the provider.

For instance, Brad signs an agreement to sell his services as a writer to a content writing agency. He will sign the document with his private key. When received by the agency, they will decrypt the document by matching Brad's public key. If the key doesn't match, it means they are not Brad's signature or the document was tampered with.

This will invalidate Brad's signature. On the contrary, the signature is considered validated if everything matches and is known as a legally binding signature. The documents consist of data that is needed to prove the signee's consent and his identity.

PKI requires that the keys generated are stored and saved securely. Also, the services of a reliable Certificate Authority (CA) are required to encrypt digital signatures. Safe digital signing requires all the providers to meet PKI’s requirements.

Part 7: When to Use a Digital Signature?

You can use digital signatures when you want to secure a document or message and you don’t want anyone to tamper with the document. There are many applications of digital signatures in today’s world. You can use digital signatures when:

  • Sending or receiving a secure email that is digitally signed.
  • Making secure online transactions.
  • Identifying people involved in secure online transactions.
  • Applying for e-filers of income tax returns or other related applications.
  • To digitally sign and authenticate Word or Excel documents.

Part 8: How to Add a Digital Signature in PDF?

There are many solutions available to add a digital signature to a PDF file. However, Adobe Acrobat is among the best digital signature service providers. It supports digital signatures by simply placing a field for them on the form.

You can add a digital signature in PDF using Adobe Acrobat by following the below steps:

  • The signee will receive a document to digitally sign. It can look something like the below picture.
  • Click the "review and sign button". Read the document and complete all the fields before heading to the signing process.
  • Once you proceed after filling in the information, you will get two options to choose from to digitally sign the document.
  • Either you can sign the document online with a Digital ID or download the document to sign it with Acrobat.
  • Signing the document with cloud signature requires you to add specific information and it is backed by the certification authorities to secure your digitally signed document.
  • Proceed with the option of your choice and add digital signatures to your documents.
  • Once you have signed, you can preview the signature to authenticate it and after that send the signed document to the authorities.

Part 9: Digital Signature VS. Electronic Signature

While digital signatures and electronic signatures might seem identical to many people, there are significant key differences between both of them. Let’s have a look at these key differences.

Digital SignatureElectronic Signature
They are used to secure a document.Electronic signatures intend to verify a document.
It is an electronic fingerprint backed by certification authority for encryption.It can be an image, symbol, sound, fingerprint, or signature.
It is authorized by certification authorities.It is not usually authorized.
They are preferred more than electronic signatures due to their authenticity.Significantly easy to use but not authentic.
It ensures the security of a digital account.It is only used to verify a document.

Some other differences:

  1. Digital signatures are of two types, that are Microsoft and Adobe PDF. Whereas electronic signatures consist of four types, which are:
  • a basic electronic signature
  • click-to-sign signature
  • advanced electronic signature
  • qualified signature

2. Digital signatures are authorized by certification authorities, either government or non-government. On the other hand, electronic signatures are authorized by participating parties or specific vendors.

3. The main goal of a digital signature is to encrypt a document to secure it against illegal use. Whereas, the main goal of electronic signatures is to verify a document.

4. You can apply audit logs in digital signatures to track whether there are any changes made to the document or not. It is difficult to apply audit logs to electronic signatures.

5. Digital signatures are more reliable as compared to electronic signatures as they are difficult to tamper with. Whereas electronic signatures are a little susceptible to tampering.

These were some key differences between digital signatures and electronic signatures. There are also other major differences between them. Now you know how digital signatures are different from electronic signatures and how you can use them in your documents. If you want to secure documents, you can use digital signatures. On the contrary, electronic signatures can be used for verification purposes only.