Goodbye ink, hello digital signatures

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With the business world turning increasingly to digitally signed documents, the hand-written signature is on its last legs.

digital-signing

With more businesses and entities than ever before turning to digitally signed documents to solve security issues and improve logistics, the value and lifespan of the hand-written signature has come under serious scrutiny.

While there is a certain sentimentality – perhaps an emotional attachment bred at school level – still attached to an individual’s unique autograph, there are overarching ideals that suggest a future without it.

In fact the hand-written or ink signature has, in recent times, been likened to landline telephones and typewriters – age-old tools that, beyond their nostalgic appeal, are on their death bed. In the corporate world, which is increasingly aspiring towards a paperless future, pen-and-paper signing has been dubbed the enemy.

Leon van der Merwe, head of digital at PBSA and co-founder of South African based digital signature solution SignFlow, believes the hand-written signature’s time is slowly but surely coming to an end. “Ink signatures have been a part of human culture for aeons and, for their time, they had their place. But with today’s technology, there is no reason for us to hang on to something that, for all intents and purposes, is about as dependable as a fake Facebook profile.”

Ink signature snags

Van der Merwe points out the biggest problem with hand-written signatures is that they can easily be forged. “There are a number of ways in which digital signatures trump hand-written ones, but the most significant and compelling feature of digital above ink is that of security.

“Digital signatures use a cryptographic operation that creates a hash-code, which is unique to both the signer and the content. It cannot be copied, forged or tampered with. The whole process provides irrefutable proof of the signer’s identity, protects the data integrity of the document and provides non-repudiation of signed documents.”

Apart from ink signatures being prone to forgery, a general attitude of inattentiveness has crept in over the years, making them quite literally a joke. This is most applicable when it comes to transaction authorisation.

“When last did you notice a waiter or retail clerk checking the signature you pen on the receipt? And do you always sign legibly and consistently?” asks Van der Merwe.

As far back as 2001, Internet humourist John Hargrave experimented with this notion in a credit card prank in which he forged outlandish signatures on receipts. He reportedly signed receipts with, among others, “Mariah Carey”, “Beethoven” and “I stole this card”. Hargrave even signed in hieroglyphics. None of the merchants noticed. (Hargrave recounts his famous Credit Card Prank in his 2007 book, Prank the Monkey)

‘Sign here’ has been replaced with ‘Click here’

Former US president Bill Clinton lent credence to the solidity of signing digitally in 2000, when he signed the first US bill into law electronically.

Renowned Amercian business magazine, Forbes, begins its article on Clinton’s watershed signing with the line, “‘Sign here’ has just been replaced with ‘click here’.”

Another turning point in the life of the digital signature took place earlier this year, in July, when the European Union effected new guidelines for electronic signatures, giving them the same legal power as hand-written signatures.

“The benefits of employing digital business processes far outweigh the paper-reliant processes of days gone by and it’s only a matter of time before digital signatures take over from their expiring ink-on-paper counterparts,” says Van der Merwe.

Not only are digital signatures undeniably more secure and unable to be forged, he concludes, they are legally sound. “Importantly, they also create a digital audit trail and they don’t rely on filing, printing, scanning or back-and-forth emailing – paper-based processes that cost companies profoundly, in terms of both time and money.”

REFERENCES

SignFlow

The Verge

New Republic

Forbes

SA tech underpins Delta State’s ‘Fast Track 90’ system

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Published by ITWeb Africa on 29 June 2016

 

Nigeria’s Delta State has launched the ‘Fast Track 90’ digital system designed for the acquisition of legal titles for landed property.

Historically an onerous process fraught with bottlenecks, bureaucracy and prone to fraud, the issuance of Certificate-of-Occupancy (C-of-O) to property owners in Delta State will, going forward, be fast tracked to 90 days and fraud-proofed, claims pbDigital, a division of South African customer communications firm PBSA, and the company that developed the technology behind the digital system.

Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, unveiled the Fast Track 90 scheme at the end of March, saying one of the biggest hindrances to investors was the high cost and delays associated with acquiring the legal titles to landed property.

“Fast Track 90, an innovative policy of this administration designed to enhance ease of business in the state, has been initiated to overcome the bottlenecks that have become a recurring decimal in obtaining C-of-Os, it will take a maximum of ninety days for land owners to obtain their C-of-Os from the Ministry of Lands and Surveys and the new system is fast, transparent and in line with global best practices,” said Okowa.

Fast Track 90 relies on a software platform – recently developed specifically for the project – which connects to PBSA’s High Security Module Cloud Server infrastructure in South Africa. The solution is a hybrid, digital certificate issuing and verification solution for certificates that also need to be printed on paper.

Leon van der Merwe, head of pbDigital, explains: “Smatforms, a channel partner of PBSA in Nigeria, approached PBSA for a solution to digitise the paper-based issuing process for Delta State C-of-O documents. The solution-platform is built on pbDigital’s cloud technology that uses state-of-the-art cryptography to embed digital signatures in PDF documents. The system is an end-to-end solution for issuing these documents.”

Certificate verification

The printed certificate that is issued to the citizen contains an embedded QR code, explains Van der Merwe. “When the QR code is scanned with any generic, free QR code scanner using an online smart device, the original electronic document is opened from a secure cloud location. The electronic version of the document and the printed paper copy presented by the citizen can be compared and must have exactly the same content.

“The authenticity of the electronic document can also be verified by using a free version of Adobe PDF Reader to verify the signatures.

“The digital signatures on the document that were applied by the official authorities when the document was produced, carry X.509 personal cryptographic properties. During the verification process, these signature properties will have the verified personal information and Adobe AATL (Adobe Approved Trust List) certificate information embedded in each digital signature.”

Digital signature technology breakthrough for face-to-face signing

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face to faceThe SignFlow team has made a technological breakthrough that gives users the ability to carry out face-to-face document signing and turn a simple electronic signature into a certifiable digital signature with a full audit trail, on the fly.

Ideal for face-to-face contractual signing, the new SignFlow feature allows users to have documents signed in a face-to-face environment, with a graphical signature that is linked to the signer’s identity, cellphone number and email address. This provides the SignFlow user the opportunity to witness the signature, which – backed by a digital certificate – is 100% legal.

While the use of electronic signatures obtained via mechanisms such as handheld signature pads is commonplace, SignFlow has taken the practice to the next level and is the only solution on the market that takes an e-signature and turns it into a digital signature, with the signer’s information embedded into a digital certificate.

SignFlow Face-to-Face is not just the scribble of a signature with a mouse – it is a fully-fledged, legally certifiable digital signature with all the security and non-repudiation benefits that come with it.

On top of this, the Face-to-Face signature from SignFlow has all the auditing advantages of a digital signature – another area in which it trumps electronic signatures. This means that, after the document has been signed and the PDF downloaded, the audit trail of the person that signed can be seen in the PDF document – allowing the user to validate the person’s signature using Adobe Acrobat.

A digital signature differs fundamentally from an electronic signature. An electronic signature has no active verification capability built into it – nor does it come with a traceable audit trail – leaving it wide open to fraud and repudiation.

A digital signature, on the other hand, is created using a cryptographic operation that creates a hash-code unique to both the signer and the content, so that it cannot be copied, forged or tampered with. In this case there is strong proof of the signer’s identity, and the data integrity of the document is totally protected.

PBSA unveils digital signature tech

itweb_logo_smlPosted by ITWeb on 16 February 2016

PBSA, a provider of customer communication solutions, has introduced a digital signing and electronic workflow solution, in an effort to boost paperless offices.

SignFlow is cloud-based software that reduces the need to print documents to obtain signatures, says PBSA (formerly Pitney Bowes SA). It utilises cryptographic technology to apply verifiable, personal digital signatures to documents, it says.

This comes three years after PBSA introduced digital signatures into South Africa with its CoSign digital signature solution.

But while the CoSign solution solved the problem of businesses having to print, scan and e-mail documents for signing, it did not solve the problem of documents having to be signed by multiple parties, says Leon van der Merwe, PBSA business development manager and SignFlow co- founder.

He says this is where SignFlow plugs the gap. It was designed for workflow documents that need multiple parties to sign or action a document.

According to Van der Merwe, the software product has now officially launched, following its beta release in October.

He says the solution is focused towards a paperless SA and solves one last important and complicated part of digitisation of documents – the signature.

He says the drive to go paperless in most businesses is hampered by the need to obtain a signature on the document.

“This, up to now, had far-reaching consequences as it is not so much just the cost of the paper, but rather the far-reaching costs and environmental impact of processing the paper.”

Van der Merwe points out the amount of money and time businesses spend on getting documents approved and signed is staggering.

“Signflow bridges this gap by offering a secure digital signature workflow solution. It eliminates all the inefficient, costly processes relying on print, scan, fax, e-mail and courier completely.”

According to The Paperless Project – a grassroots coalition of companies focused on transforming the way organisations work with paper and electronic content – the world produces over 300 million tons of paper each year.

BMI-TechKnowledge says printing on paper is costing the taxpayer around R2.3 billion per annum, says Van der Merwe.

This is largely due to paper-based processes or digital processes that still break out into paper at some point, he adds.

He believes SignFlow, together with a good culture to drive paperless initiatives in organisations, can reduce this cost with as much as 80%.

SA definitely seems to be taking longer to adapt to a truly paperless environment, says Van der Merwe. “Our culture to want to touch what we read is definitely still very much a part of doing everyday business – this needs to change.”

Van der Merwe points out turning a paper-based process into a digital one requires commitment and buy-in from all stakeholders.

“It’s truly only a change in culture that is the hardest challenge. We are so used to handling paper, it has become ingrained in our ways and we don’t think about the consequences of using it.”