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Digital Signatures

Digital signatures are a mathematical technique used to verify the authenticity and integrity of a message, software, or digital document. This is a digital version of a handwritten signature or stamped sticker, but with much more inherent security.

Digital signatures are intended to solve counterfeiting and counterfeiting problems in digital communications. Digital signatures can prove the source, identity, and status of electronic documents, transactions, or digital messages. Signers can also use them to verify informed consent.

In many countries, including the United States, digital signatures are legally binding, as are traditional handwritten document signatures.

How do digital signatures work?

Digital signatures are based on public key cryptography, also known as asymmetric cryptography. Using a public key algorithm, such as RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman), two keys are generated, creating a mathematically linked pair of keys, one private and one public.

Digital signatures work through public key cryptography's two mutually authenticating cryptographic keys. The individual who creates the digital signature uses a private key to encrypt signature-related data, while the only way to decrypt that data is with the signer's public key.

If the recipient can't open the document with the signer's public key, that's a sign there's a problem with the document or the signature. This is how digital signatures are authenticated.

Digital signature technology requires all parties trust that the individual creating the signature has kept the private key secret. If someone else has access to the private signing key, that party could create fraudulent digital signatures in the name of the private key holder.

What are the benefits of digital signatures?

Security is the main benefit of digital signatures. Security capabilities embedded in digital signatures ensure a document is not altered and signatures are legitimate. Security features and methods used in digital signatures include the following:

Personal identification numbers (PINs), passwords and codes. Used to authenticate and verify a signer's identity and approve their signature. Email, username and password are the most common methods used.

Asymmetric cryptography. Employs a public key algorithm that includes private and public key encryption and authentication.

Checksum. A long string of letters and numbers that represents the sum of the correct digits in a piece of digital data, against which comparisons can be made to detect errors or changes. A checksum acts as a data fingerprint.