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Digital Signature


A digital signature is an electronic equivalent of an individual's signature. It authenticates the message to which it is attached and validates the authenticity of the sender. In addition, it also provides confirmation that the contents of the message to which it is attached, have not been tampered with, en route from the sender to the receiver.

A further feature is that an e-mail 'signed' with a digital signature cannot easily be repudiated; i.e. the sender is not able to deny the sending and the contents of the message; plus it provides a digital time stamp to confirm the time and date of transmission.

For a digital signature to be recognised, and acknowledged as something of integrity, it needs to be trusted by the recipient. It is for this reason that a Certification Authority will supply a digital signature to persons, the identity of whom, it has been able to verify; perhaps by having an Attorney's stamp on a document which validates the applicant's name, address, date of birth etc.

To provide greater digital trust, the Digital Signature is packaged with the certificate of the Certification Authority, and this too may be inspected for validity and expiration.

Most people expect digital signatures to totally replace the use of the ('old fashioned') pen and ink signature with orders and authorities being accepted via digitally signed e-mails, the contents of which may, or may not, be encrypted for additional security.

N.B. In July 2000, Digital Signatures became legally accepted in the United Kingdom under Section 7 of the Electronic Communications Act. In the USA also, Congress approved the use of Digital Signatures for certain types of e-Business around the same time under the E-Sign Act. Because both Acts are extremely new, it is strongly recommended that legal advice be sought before reliance is placed upon this new legislation.

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