Three types of Electronic Signatures and how to choose the right type for your transactions

Types of electronic signatures

Unlike on paper, there are many different ways to sign digital transactions. Each type having a different level of evidential power and legality, each type bringing its own user experience. In this blog we will explain you about the different types of electronic signatures available in the market and how you can select the right type of signature for your company. Allowing you to find the perfect balance between security and user experience. 

Types of electronic signatures, what eIDAS says

First, let’s take a look at the different existing signature types. The distinction is based on the electronic Identification, Authentication and trust Services regulation (eIDAS), set up in 2016. This regulation establishes the legal structure for electronic identification, signatures, seals and documents throughout the EU.

It also classifies the level of assurance for the different types. This level is determined by multiple factors, which we will summarize here under in the table. Based on the assurance it offers, eIDAS recognizes three types:

  1. Simple or Basic electronic signature (SES)
  2. Advanced electronic or digital signature (AES)
  3. Qualified advanced electronic or digital signature (QES)

Difference between digital and electronic signature

As you can see above, there is also a difference between a digital and an electronic signature, even though many use the two terms interchangeably. The difference has mainly to do with technology.

A digital signature always relies on a crypto-based technology. This means that the content of the document will always be locked and secured when placing a digital signature, you always have the guarantee that the content of the document cannot be changed anymore after signing. This is not necessarily valid for an electronic signature. For example: an electronic signature can also be the image of a manually drawn signature pasted for example in a Word document. Where you aren’t thus sure that the Word document has not been changed anymore after signature.

Actually, the term electronic signature is a collective noun. Therefore, a digital signature can be an electronic signature, but an electronic signature is not always a digital signature. Like a dog is an animal but an animal not necessarily a dog. Further below the differences will even become more clear.

The 4 key questions to select the right type

Now, let’s see how you can determine the level of assurance for an electronic signature. To make it simple, you can ask yourself these 4 key questions.

  1. Authenticity
    Does the signature needs to uniquely link to the signatory?
  2. Identity
    Do we want to make absolutely sure we can identify the signatory?
  3. Integrity
    Do we want to detect any changes in the document after the signature?
  4. Authentication
    Do we want to be 100% confident that the signature is created under the sole control of the signatory?

If the answer is a ‘definitely yes’ on all 4, you need the highest level of assurance: the QES.
If the answer is ‘desirable’ or not a ‘definitely yes’ on all 4, you might go for the AES.
If the stakes are not that high, or there are other F2F identification circumstances, or you just want a reading confirmation for the minutes of a meeting for example, the easiest solution, SES will do the job.

Some examples

After reading this you might think ‘ I want to be sure in all cases’. Of course, this makes sense but let’s take a look at some examples to explain better when you need which kind of security.

We already mentioned the example of the minutes of a meeting. In this case SES level will do.

However, when it comes to a mortgage or a $ 100.000 deal, you want to make sure the signatory has the legal mandate and is who he claims to be. In F2F transactions or within an authenticated client environment, an SES could still apply. However, both AES and QES are advisable when these transactions happen for example online. It’s all in the circumstances of the complete process.

Details of the different types of electronic signatures

In the table below, you can find the details per signature type.

Types of electronic signatures

Want to know more about electronic signatures? Download our Whitepaper ‘Digital Signatures’.

In this blog we explained the different types of electronic signatures. However, the right solution depends on many more factors. If you want to be sure you make the right decision, read our white paper. It includes much more information about electronic signatures, as well as an extensive and practical check list. This will help you choosing the right solution, which will satisfy all parties involved.