e-signature security

The Ultimate Guide to E-Signature Security Checklist and Rules

Every modern business associates with one or the other form of electronic signature in its operations. The basic example of an electronic signature is an application asking for a PIN number or OTP for accessing specific services. With the increasing adoption of electronic signatures, e-signature security has become a highly important concern for every business in the present times. 

The transaction of sensitive information using e-signatures can pose substantial threats.  A number of experts have said that strengthening your security helps in avoiding unwanted expenses related to security issues. Therefore, every organization should follow the best practices to ensure a secure electronic signature

Also Read: Common Threats to the E-Signed Documents

List of E-signature Security Rules

In order to avoid the e-signature security issues, it is important to understand the e-signature security checklists and rules properly. So, the following discussion would take a look at some of the important e-signature security rules. In addition, the discussion would also focus on a security checklist for electronic signatures. So, without any further delay, let’s get ahead.

Rule #1

The first rule for secure electronic signature is to comply with eIDAS, UETA and ESIGN definitions of electronic signature. If these precedents are not applicable, then the e-signature should comply with other national/local regulations. For example, you have the Information Technology Act in India. When you select an e-signature solution in the US, make sure that it complies with the requirements of UETA, ESIGN, and GPEA.

On the contrary, these precedents do not clearly demarcate legally defensible from legally admissible. Various e-signature solutions are admissible in court albeit failing to withstand comprehensive legal scrutiny. The promises of E-signature security tend to fade away in this aspect. An interesting fact, in this case, would be the fact that ESIGN and UETA came into existence in 2000 and 1999, respectively. Therefore, the laws made for electronic signature security primarily defined that electronic signatures cannot be denied legal admissibility. 

However, in the present times, every organization uses ESIGN as a starting point for different e-signature requirements. Therefore, it is very important to measure the eligibility of e-signatures for additional requirements that make it legally defensible. Most important of all, you should ensure that high-risk transactions do not use e-signature technologies for low-risk transactions. 

Rule #2

The second e-signature security rule refers to the use of the same e-signature technology for all signatures on a document. If this condition is not fulfilled, then successive signatures should not destroy the evidence about previous signatures. On the other hand, if a document needs signatures from multiple signatories, then the same signature technology should be used. As a result, the intent, information, and integrity of the signature tend to remain unharmed. This is one of the most important precedents for e-signature security. 

Various e-signature technologies have unique processes for document preparation. The processes prepare the document for signing and also lock them in integrity. Passing a document through different e-signature technologies can result in loss of supporting legal evidence. The legal evidence is an embedded component in the document when the system prepares the document for the second signature. The best recommendation for secure e-signature is to adopt single e-signature technology for documents requiring multiple signatures. If that is not possible, then you should develop policies that prevent e-signature technologies from overwriting signatures.

The use of electronic signature brings so many benefits to your business. Here are the top reasons to adopt an electronic signature for your business.

Rule #3

The third rule in e-signature security implies capturing the intent to sign at each instance of the signature. A person having the intent to sign an electronic record should adopt an electronic form of signature. The intent specifies the approval for information in a document by the concerned individual. The intent capture should be done for each signature as well as at the time of each signature. The intent should form a part of granular evidence within the audit trail of the e-signature. 

The intent to sign is a formidable legal element and evidence for electronic signature security. Therefore, the intent to sign should be captured and recorded with attention to two distinct aspects. The first aspect implies the features in the e-signature solution for capturing signatory’s intent at document review and signature. Another important factor is the storage of intent as granular evidence in the audit trail. The best practice implies a representation of intent in clear language and actions explaining the process of signing to the signatory. 

In addition, the intent should also represent the desire to sign for the signing process. Representation of the intent to sign should also be included as granular evidence in the audit trail of the e-signature. Failing to produce the evidence can render the e-signature invalid. 

Rule #4

Now, we move towards our next rule for e-signature security by taking a hint from the previous rule discussed above. Every signed document should have an audit trail that includes the intent to sign for each signature. In addition, the audit trail should include consistent, timestamped, and granular evidence as we might have learned till now. Every e-signature should track and record all the steps in the signature process so that users could track a document. Users could observe different states of a document in a particular transaction through the audit trail.

Furthermore, the audit trail also helps in presenting a strong claim in court. Therefore, it is essential to have a highly granular audit trail with information on each step regardless of its importance. The details can help you make sure that your document holds up in the court. An audit trail is essentially important for reducing the risk for highly regulated organizations where documents are maintained for long.

Rule #5

The fifth rule of e-signature security refers to attaching an electronic signature to the electronic record being signed. Also, every signature should follow the established standards. The independent verification of the signature should not depend on the electronic signature service or website for validation. Another important concern related to e-signature is that association and integrity are not related together. Therefore, secure e-signature solutions should always ensure integrity as well as association. A reliable e-signature solution should prove the integrity of an e-signature alongside proving the association of the signature with a document. Proprietary means are ideal for achieving association that follows international standards for electronic signatures. 

Therefore, the best practice for e-signature security concerning this rule refers to legal consultation on certain aspects. The aspects include the format of the documents, proprietary nature of documents, human-readability of signatures, accessibility using free viewing software, etc. Also, it is important to verify that e-signature is an integral part of a document. The signature should also link with the document actively. Furthermore, you should also verify the association of each signature with international cryptographic and document standards. 

Also Read: Top 10 Uses of Electronic Signatures

Rule #6

The sixth rule for security in electronic signature refers to multi-factor authentication. However, you can limit to two-factor authentications in this case. The two-factor authentication would involve an email password or an OTP and a mobile device for accessing the password. According to the level of risk, some forms and documents may need higher levels of authentication. 

The risk determines the type of authentication required for verifying the signer’s identity. Therefore, the best practice implies to set up a strong precedent for authentication. As a result, any fluctuations are avoided easily. Two-factor authentication is the most recommended form of verifying signatory’s identity. Without a basic level of authentication, an organization faces the chances of improving risks and issues with evidence. 

Rule #7

The final rule for e-signature security refers to an instrument for preserving the integrity of a signed record. The signed record should be portable, tamper-evident, granular and independently verifiable. In addition, the record should also qualify for verification in the long-term. Therefore, integrity is highly crucial in order to prevent any tampering with electronic documents. Organizations should define the application of integrity to an electronic document. A standards-based e-signature is ideal in such cases. The governance of e-signatures depends on international standards. 

In addition, they also form the basis for secure web transactions (SSL). One of the important factors to keep in mind is to avoid vendor lock-in. Vendor lock-in involves the vendor possessing evidence about your document. The implications of lock-in are numerous and can include possible costs, risks of the vendor going out of business. In addition, you also have the risk of the vendor changing their methods after a few years. You should not compromise with these factors when it comes to high-risk transactions.

Furthermore, you could be at risk if the vendor does not have specific standards or they just provide password protection. Therefore, you have to focus on four core issues for ensuring the verification and integrity of signatures. The first aspect refers to portability or independent verification. The other aspects include tamper-evidence, long-term verification, and granularity. 

People have a number of doubts about e-signatures that are spreading as myths. Let’s know these e-signature myths and facts behind them.

Checklist for Security in E-signature Solutions

Now, the most important concern in this discussion refers to the e-signature security checklist. The security checklist can act as a tool for verifying all the precedents of security for e-signature. You should always have the security checklist handy for determining the reliability of an e-signature solution. It also ensures that the integrity of the e-signature is always intact. So, let’s have a look at the e-signature security checklist.

  • User Authentication

The first aspect that is included in the checklist for e-signature security refers to user authentication. In this aspect, you should ensure the authentication of users before e-signing and integrate the authentication with the e-signature and record. The different factors that you should focus in this aspect refer to a solution for supporting multiple authentication methods. 

In addition, the solution should have capabilities for configuring different authentication methods in the same transaction. The solution shall provide flexibility for adapting authentication methods to the risk profile of an organization alongside automation of each process. The solution should also give flexible alternatives for attributing in-person signatures such as SMS password and affidavits. 

  • Audit Trail of the Signature

The next important factor in the e-signature security checklist is the audit trail. The audit trail provides additional security for an e-signature. E-signed documents that can have independent verification and archive have an additional layer of security. Vendor independence is possible only if the solutions can embed e-signatures, audit trail, and timestamp directly in the e-signed document. 

Therefore, you need to have a self-contained, portable record that can act as evidence. In this case, you need to look out specifically for two factors. The first factor implies the abilities for independent verification of document authenticity. The second factor refers to the capability for indexing, storing and retrieving the e-signed document in the preferred system of record. 

  • Securing the Document as well as a Signature

The aspect of document and signature security should also be one of the important agendas for e-signature security. The e-signature solution should ensure security at the signature level as well as the document level. The important aspects that you should look out for are highly important for safeguarding sensitive information. You should verify that each document and signature have security for e-signature.

Furthermore, you should have a comprehensive audit trail showing the date and time of each signature. The audit trail should also provide secure embedding in the document and proper link with each signature. You should also check for the facility of one-click signature and document verification. The ability for verification of signed record validity offline is also crucial in this aspect. Another important factor is that the document should remain accessible to all parties in the transaction. Most important of all, the solution should have the feature to download a verifiable copy of the signed record and audit trail. 

It is important to look into the security factors while choosing an electronic signature solution for your business. Here are the top points you should consider while choosing an e-signature vendor.

  • Audit Trail of the Signing Process and Compliance Programs

You should also note the audit trail of the signing process for checking the security of e-signatures. It makes sure that the audit trail contains the IP address, date, and timestamp of all events and others. The other factors include the length of time for reviewing each document and all the web pages, disclosures, and documents presented. In addition, the audit trail should also represent intent and other actions taken during the transaction. Finally, you should ensure that the e-signature vendor has appropriate compliance programs in place to deal with data breaches.  The recommended compliance program is SOC2 while the other two are SSAE 16/SOC 1 and ISO 27001.

Bottom Line

In this discussion, we were able to learn the importance of rules for e-signature security. The most important part of the discussion was dealing with the rules only. The most crucial rule for the security of e-signature among all the e-signature rules primarily refers to the integrity and association. You should always ensure the facility of an audit trail to track the e-signing process.

Furthermore, the discussion also showed the importance of focusing on security for the e-signature as well as the document signed. Finally, the discussion moved towards a checklist after explaining the seven rules. The checklist helps in understanding the various factors that you should tick-off to get the best e-signature software

Always remember that security is always the best policy so understand the e-signature security checklist and rules first before using electronic signatures for your business! 

Posted by Brian Felix

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