AdvisorSigning documents and PDFs

There are many different ways to sign documents. However, these different possibilities are not always equivalent. For instance, there are some differences in legal security between different types of signatures. In this guide, you will learn what you need to take into account when signing documents and PDFs and how to sign PDFs securely.

Signature creation options

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Signing with handwritten siganture

The most common variant of signing today is the paper-based and handwritten. Although it is very legally secure, it often causes additional expenses, reduced efficiency and media disruption.

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Insert signature image

Another way of signing documents is to insert an image of the signature into the PDF. Even though signing is very easy and uncomplicated this way, it has absolutely no legal validity.

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Remote qualified electronic signatures

Another possibility is signing with the remote digital signature. In this case, qualified trust service provider create the signature with a certificate and timestamp on behalf of the person signing. In order to execute the qualified electronic signature, the person must first identify himself or herself to the trust service provider, using online or on-site identification methods. During the signing process on a PDF document, the person uses the smartphone with an activated means of authentication, e.g. an authenticator app or a PIN.

Digital signing using the qualified electronic signature involves relatively little effort and is just as secure as handwritten signatures. According to the eIDAS Regulation or the Swiss federal law ZertES, the qualified signature is equivalent to the handwritten signature.

Remote qualified signature process

A secure and simple way of signing documents is using electronic signatures with the help of signature service providers. Signature service providers offer various applications, software, platforms or end-2-end document workflows, whether as cloud or desktop solutions (on-prem). Instead trust service providers deliver the creation, verification and validation of electronic signatures as well as the associated identity solution to the software or applications of the signature service provider. When selecting one of the signature service providers, you need to ensure that they work together with a qualified trust service provider. Trust service providers either have a recognised seal or have an entry in a trust list. The European Union publishes such a trust list of all qualified trust service providers that comply with the EU regulation eIDAS. In Switzerland, the Federal Office of Communication (OFCOM) provides also a directory of recognised certification service providers in accordance with the Swiss federal law ZertES.

In order to be able to use the electronic signature, the person has to get identified once with the selected trust service provider (in Switzerland: certification service provider) and then uses the software or application of a signature service provider. The user uploads the digital document into a signing platform and places the signature image with only one mouse click. Before the electronic signature is applied on the document with a valid timestamp and electronic certificate, the user must confirm the signature using a means of authentication (e.g. PIN or Authenticator App with fingerprint).

After the document has been signed, the application checks the validity of the electronic certificates and plays the result of this check. If the certificates are valid, the document is signed.

Security of the digital signature on a PDF

When digitally signing PDFs, the qualified electronic signature offers the highest level of security among the digital signature methods due to the legal and strict requirements it has to fulfil.

For example, the electronic signature must belong to a specific person, show whether data in the document has been changed after the signature has been applied and it must be possible to trace who set the signature. In addition, the person must have his or her identity validated before the signature is applied to the document. All these criteria determine the high security of digitally signing a PDF with the qualified signature.

In contrast, signing a PDF with the help of a touch screen or by inserting the signature into a PDF is not very secure, as in this case no security procedures or legal requirements are used as with the qualified electronic signature.

Advantages of digital signatures on PDF documents

The advantages of digital signatures are obvious. By digitally signing PDF documents, you can save costs, work more effectively and it prevents a media disruption. The qualified electronic signature is by law equal to a handwritten signature on paper, so it has no disadvantages for the user. Thus, the use of the qualified electronic signature not only simplifies processes, but guaratess security.

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