A digital signature is a mathematical technique used to validate the authenticity and integrity of a message, software or digital document. As the digital equivalent of a handwritten signature or stamped seal, a digital signature offers far more inherent security, and it is intended to solve the problem of tampering and impersonation in digital communications.
Digital signatures can provide the added assurances of evidence of origin, identity and status of an electronic document, transaction or message and can acknowledge informed consent by the signer.
In many countries, including the United States, digital signatures are considered legally binding in the same way as traditional document signatures.
How digital signatures work
Digital signatures are based on public key cryptography, also known as asymmetric cryptography. Using a public key algorithm, such as RSA, one can generate two keys that are mathematically linked: one private and one public.
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Digital signatures work because public key cryptography depends on two mutually authenticating cryptographic keys. The individual who is creating the digital signature uses their own private key to encrypt signature-related data; the only way to decrypt that data is with the signer's public key. This is how digital signatures are authenticated.
Digital signature technology requires all the parties to trust that the individual creating the signature has been able to keep their own private key secret. If someone else has access to the signer's private key, that party could create fraudulent digital signatures in the name of the private key holder)
Classes of digital signatures
There are three different classes of Digital Signature Certificates:
Class 1: Cannot be used for legal business documents as they are validated based only on an email ID and username. Class 1 signatures provide a basic level of security and are used in environments with a low risk of data compromise.
Class 2: Often used for e-filing of tax documents, including income tax returns and Goods and Services Tax (GST) returns. Class 2 digital signatures authenticate a signee’s identity against a pre-verified database. Class 2 digital signatures are used in environments where the risks and consequences of data compromise are moderate.
Class 3: The highest level of digital signatures. Class 3 signatures require a person or organization to present in front of a certifying authority to prove their identity before signing. Class 3 digital signatures are used for e-auctions, e-tendering, e-ticketing, court filings and in other environments where threats to data or the consequences of a security failure are high.