Digital Signature vs Electronic Signature: What’s the Difference?

Have you ever been asked to provide a digital or electronic signature on an e-document? If so, you may have assumed that there was no difference between a digital signature vs an electronic signature. However, the terms are not interchangeable, and you should know the important differences between the two.

What is the difference between a digital signature vs an electronic signature, and when should each be used? 

Electronic Signature

An electronic signature is any notation affixed to a document by electronic means that indicates the signer intended to agree to the document’s contentst. They are used to verify that a signee knows and understands the contents of what they are signing.

The notation can be in many forms, including:

  • Typed name (e.g., “John Q. Public”)
  • Initials (e.g., “JQP”)
  • Verbal assent (saying “Yes, I agree” during a recorded conversation detailing terms and conditions of an agreement)
  • An image file of a signature created with a drawing tool
  • A signature created with a drawing tool that is integrated into a website
  • A physical signature that was scanned as an image file
  • A personal identification number (PIN) – when you use a debit card, for example, the PIN acts as your electronic signature authorizing the withdrawal of funds from your bank account, just as a physical signature on a paper check indicates the same.

See this graphic on our website for an example of an online form requiring an electronic signature.

Digital Signature

A digital signature is a type of electronic signature. Digital signatures are used to verify and secure a document. Digital signatures have encryption standards attached to prevent anyone from altering a document after it has been signed and prevent unauthorized people from editing, viewing, or sharing the document. 

Digital signatures are preferred for important legal, medical, and real estate documents because they are much more difficult to tamper with, forge, or hack than a standard electronic signature. They also act as verification that the signees received the document. In addition, they have authentication standards attached to allow interested parties – for example, court-appointed fraud specialists – to determine the validity of the signature. 

This article offers a long version of how digital signature encryption and verification standards work. 

The short version is that a certificate authority uses a complex algorithm to provide encryption keys to the signer of a document. These keys must match for the signature to be considered valid, and these encryption keys adhere to a standard known as public key infrastructure (PKI). 

All digital signature providers must conform to this standard for it to be considered valid by most legal, medical, and government entities. Note that legal digital signature requirements can vary depending on the various state or international laws, so be sure to check the laws in your local jurisdiction for specific requirements regarding digital signatures vs electronic signatures.

If you need to efficiently and easily collect legally-binding signatures on your electronic documents, consider Go Find It for all of your document management and storage needs. Our software solutions are compliant with your industry requirements for electronic signatures as well as other document management protocols, and our signature tool, Go Sign It, seamlessly integrates with our full document management suite of products. 

Contact us to schedule a free demo!