Digital signature vs. digital certificate

Some people believe digital certificates and digital signatures are the same thing. These two terms are often used as synonyms, but the fact is that they aren’t, even though they are often used in the same field of technology. In this article we will take a closer look at each one and explain their main features.

Digital transformation has brought new technologies and concepts that are often difficult to understand and differentiate from each other if we are not well informed. Therefore, we must correctly define their nature and uses.

It is extremely important to stay up to date with the world of technology, especially trends that can have a positive impact on a company’s performance and efficiency.

What are digital certificates

A digital certificate is a digital document containing a dataset to identify a person via the Internet. The European Commission defines “certificate for electronic signature” in eIDAS regulation as follows:

”an electronic attestation which links electronic signature validation data to a natural person and confirms at least the name or the pseudonym of that person”

Digital certificates have become key for communicating with the private sector and, above all, with the Public Administration, which has enabled to carry out administrative procedures from any computer or mobile device.

Despite the great efforts made, the private sector is far more agile than the public sector when adjusting to market trends, and has been much quicker in adapting their web content and services to mobile devices.

This is known as e-Government (or e-Administration), defined by the European Commission as ““the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in public administrations combined with organizational change and new skills in order to improve public services and democratic processes and strengthen support to public policies”.

Digital certificates have resulted in considerable cost savings for the Administration.
The report “Efficiency and Savings with the Application of Accessible Technologies in Public Administrations” estimates that 134,358 million euros have been saved from 2011 to 2020.

Digital certificates can be requested through the website of any Qualified Trust Service Provider. The most used in Spain, but not the only one, is the one issued by the Fábrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre through its CERES (Spanish Certification) department, and has a wide range of uses.

Below there’s a list of some of the uses:

  • Tax filing and liquidation.
  • Filing of appeals and claims.
  • Completing the census.
  • Consulting and registration in the municipal register.
  • Traffic fines consultation.
  • Inquiries and procedures for requesting subsidies.
  • Checking the assignment of polling stations.
  • Request a medical appointment.
  • Changing your doctor.
  • Check your medical history.

What are digital signatures

Once explained what digital certificates are and their advantages, it is time to define what digital signatures are.

According to Wikipedia, a digital signature is :

A mathematical scheme for verifying the authenticity of digital messages or documents. A valid digital signature, where the prerequisites are satisfied, gives a recipient very strong reason to believe that the message was created by a known sender (authentication), and that the message was not altered in transit (integrity)

Therefore, there are three basic features in a digital signature: authentication, non-repudiation and integrity.

Authentication refers to the identification of the original signer. Non-repudiation means that signers can’t deny that they have signed the document. Finally, integrity shows that the signature has not been altered after it was first issued.

A few years ago, the European Union introduced a law to regulate electronic signatures as well as the features they must have in order to be legally valid.

Regulation EU 910/2014 sets out three types of eSignatures:

  • Simple electronic signature: Simple electronic signature means data in electronic form which is attached to or logically associated with other data in electronic form and which is used by the signatory to sign. It has legal effect and can hold up in a court of law, although it may have to be backed with other type of evidence.
  • Advanced electronic signature: A signature that is uniquely linked to the signatory, allowing their identification. Created using signature creation data that only the signatory can use, with a high level of confidence, under their exclusive control and linked to the data signed by them so that any possible further changes are detected. This type of signature certifies the identity of the signatory, integrity of data, providing more legal guarantees.
  • Qualified electronic signature: It is an advanced electronic signature created using a qualified electronic signature creation device and based on a qualified certificate. It enjoys the highest possible level of security and will have a legal effect similar to the handwritten signature.

In other words:

  • There are many ways to sign electronically. If they meet the established requirements, they can be considered advanced electronic signatures, which are perfectly secure and recognized by the European legislation.
  • In case a qualified digital certificate is used (under certain specific conditions) it will have the same legal value as the handwritten signature.

Versatile and secure solutions

Viafirma’s digital signature solutions cover all above-mentioned signature options. Furthermore, they provide legal evidence to add security to the process (e.g., location, timestamping, SMS or email OTP verification, etc.), as well as centralized or cloud signature to sign with certificate wherever, on any device.

These types of digital signature solutions are extremely useful for a successful digital transformation. Many companies are now taking steps to digitize their business and mobility in the work system is clearly the main advantage.

Viafirma Suite uses the universal signature to strengthen mobility, accepting the principles of technology neutrality. This means that their solutions can be used anywhere, from any device and/or operating system. Therefore, there is no need to spend money on specific servers or changing operating system. Furthermore, it does not require complex setups, as this tool that can be easily installed or integrated into any company that intends to modernize their work system.

The digital signature has a large number of uses within the office of any company, regardless of its economic activity. It helps going paperless what helps saving costs which are normally high in any type of company.

In addition, adopting a paperless work system also results in greater organization, preventing paperwork from being misplaced or lost by accident. Therefore, the use of digital technology helps keeping everything more classified avoiding the possibility of losing things thanks to the cloud storage.

It can also help many departments within any company, such as the HR or sales team, as well as the company’s CEO.

In short, a digital certificate and a digital signature are not exactly same thing, although they are often used as synonyms.

The former is simply the digital object that allows the identification of a person via the internet, while the latter is a useful and versatile tool to streamline the company’s processes that also saves costs.

All set?

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