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Digital Signatures

Description

In order to improve access, decrease turn-around times, and reduce costs, many governments and businesses are rapidly moving services to the Internet and migrating business forms and documents to electronic formats-many of these documents, such as legal contracts, must be signed by the interested parties. Therefore, the electronic version must include a mechanism for electronic signing.

An electronic signature is any electronic "mark" that identifies its user when applied. Like a hand-written one, e-signatures are normally used to provide formal approval or certification of document content. Electronic signatures can take many forms, such as writing a signature on a computer tablet or measurement and validation of biometric data. Laws such as E-Sign, UETA, and GPEA now provide a framework that gives electronic signatures the same legal force as hand-written signatures.

A digital signature is an especially trustworthy form of electronic signature that provides assurance that the signer has been correctly identified and that the signed document has not been tampered with after the application of the signature. Respectively, these are known as signer authentication and message authentication.

Technically speaking, a digital signature is an electronic representation (a bunch of bits, or 0s and 1s) that has the following properties:

* captures a "fingerprint" of the document being signed to ensure that no changes can be made to the document without also changing the fingerprint.

* It captures the identity of the signer in a way that is difficult to forge.

* It uses encryption technology to ensure that neither the "fingerprint" nor the identity of the signer can be modified.

Since neither the document fingerprint nor the signer identity can be changed, the signer becomes inextricably bound to the document content by the digital signature.
Digital signatures are becoming increasingly important for Web services and even computer-to-computer transactions. For example, a request for sensitive data can be "signed" by the sending application to verify that it is certified to obtain the data. Similarly a server can sign outgoing data, to verify the data's source and authenticity.

Many electronic business processes require or would be improved with the use of secure digital signatures. Organizations implementing or considering e-signatures for use internally, or with customers, partners, or suppliers, need to evaluate the value of the XML Signature standard.

 

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