Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Digital signature

Digital signature

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Digital signature'
Start a new discussion about 'Digital signature'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
A digital signature or digital signature scheme is a mathematical scheme for demonstrating the authenticity of a digital message or document. A valid digital signature gives a recipient reason to believe that the message was created by a known sender, and that it was not altered in transit. Digital signatures are commonly used for software distribution, financial transactions, and in other cases where it is important to detect forgery or tampering.

Explanation


Digital signatures are often used to implement electronic signature
Electronic signature
An electronic signature, or e-signature, is any electronic means that indicates either that a person adopts the contents of an electronic message, or more broadly that the person who claims to have written a message is the one who wrote it . By comparison, a signature is a stylized script...

s, a broader term that refers to any electronic data that carries the intent of a signature, but not all electronic signatures use digital signatures. In some countries, including the United States, India, and members of the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

, electronic signatures have legal significance. However, laws concerning electronic signatures do not always make clear whether they are digital cryptographic signatures in the sense used here, leaving the legal definition, and so their importance, somewhat confused.

Digital signatures employ a type of asymmetric cryptography. For messages sent through a nonsecure channel, a properly implemented digital signature gives the receiver reason to believe the message was sent by the claimed sender. Digital signatures are equivalent to traditional handwritten signatures in many respects; properly implemented digital signatures are more difficult to forge than the handwritten type. Digital signature schemes in the sense used here are cryptographically based, and must be implemented properly to be effective. Digital signatures can also provide non-repudiation
Non-repudiation
Non-repudiation refers to a state of affairs where the purported maker of a statement will not be able to successfully challenge the validity of the statement or contract. The term is often seen in a legal setting wherein the authenticity of a signature is being challenged...

, meaning that the signer cannot successfully claim they did not sign a message, while also claiming their private key remains secret; further, some non-repudiation schemes offer a time stamp for the digital signature, so that even if the private key is exposed, the signature is valid nonetheless. Digitally signed messages may be anything representable as a bitstring: examples include electronic mail, contract
Contract
A contract is an agreement entered into by two parties or more with the intention of creating a legal obligation, which may have elements in writing. Contracts can be made orally. The remedy for breach of contract can be "damages" or compensation of money. In equity, the remedy can be specific...

s, or a message sent via some other cryptographic protocol
Cryptographic protocol
A security protocol is an abstract or concrete protocol that performs a security-related function and applies cryptographic methods.A protocol describes how the algorithms should be used...

.

Definition



A digital signature scheme typically consists of three algorithms:
  • A key generation
    Key generation
    Key generation is the process of generating keys for cryptography. A key is used to encrypt and decrypt whatever data is being encrypted/decrypted....

    algorithm that selects a private key uniformly at random from a set of possible private keys. The algorithm outputs the private key and a corresponding public key.
  • A signing algorithm that, given a message and a private key, produces a signature.
  • A signature verifying algorithm that, given a message, public key and a signature, either accepts or rejects the message's claim to authenticity.


Two main properties are required. First, a signature generated from a fixed message and fixed private key should verify the authenticity of that message by using the corresponding public key. Secondly, it should be computationally infeasible to generate a valid signature for a party who does not possess the private key.

History


In 1976, Whitfield Diffie
Whitfield Diffie
Bailey Whitfield 'Whit' Diffie is an American cryptographer and one of the pioneers of public-key cryptography.Diffie and Martin Hellman's paper New Directions in Cryptography was published in 1976...

 and Martin Hellman
Martin Hellman
Martin Edward Hellman is an American cryptologist, and is best known for his invention of public key cryptography in cooperation with Whitfield Diffie and Ralph Merkle...

 first described the notion of a digital signature scheme, although they only conjectured that such schemes existed. Soon afterwards, Ronald Rivest, Adi Shamir
Adi Shamir
Adi Shamir is an Israeli cryptographer. He is a co-inventor of the RSA algorithm , a co-inventor of the Feige–Fiat–Shamir identification scheme , one of the inventors of differential cryptanalysis and has made numerous contributions to the fields of cryptography and computer...

, and Len Adleman invented the RSA algorithm, which could be used to produce primitive digital signatures (although only as a proof-of-concept—"plain" RSA signatures are not secure). The first widely marketed software package to offer digital signature was Lotus Notes
Lotus Notes
Lotus Notes is the client of a collaborative platform originally created by Lotus Development Corp. in 1989. In 1995 Lotus was acquired by IBM and became known as the Lotus Development division of IBM and is now part of the IBM Software Group...

 1.0, released in 1989, which used the RSA algorithm.

To create RSA signature keys, generate an RSA key pair containing a modulus N that is the product of two large primes, along with integers e and d such that e d ≡ 1 (mod φ(N)), where φ is the Euler phi-function
Euler's totient function
In number theory, the totient \varphi of a positive integer n is defined to be the number of positive integers less than or equal to n that are coprime to n In number theory, the totient \varphi(n) of a positive integer n is defined to be the number of positive integers less than or equal to n that...

. The signer's public key consists of N and e, and the signer's secret key contains d.

To sign a message m, the signer computes σ ≡ md (mod N). To verify, the receiver checks that σem (mod N).

As noted earlier, this basic scheme is not very secure. To prevent attacks, one can first apply a cryptographic hash function
Cryptographic hash function
A cryptographic hash function is a deterministic procedure that takes an arbitrary block of data and returns a fixed-size bit string, the hash value, such that an accidental or intentional change to the data will change the hash value...

 to the message m and then apply the RSA algorithm described above to the result. This approach can be proven secure in the so-called random oracle model.

Other digital signature schemes were soon developed after RSA, the earliest being Lamport signatures, Merkle signatures
Hash tree
In cryptography and computer science Hash trees or Merkle trees are a type of data structure which contains a tree of summary information about a larger piece of data – for instance a file – used to verify its contents. Hash trees are a combination of hash lists and hash chaining, which in turn are...

 (also known as "Merkle trees" or simply "Hash trees"), and Rabin signatures.

In 1988, Shafi Goldwasser
Shafi Goldwasser
Shafrira Goldwasser is the RSA Professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, and a professor of mathematical sciences at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel.-Biography:...

, Silvio Micali
Silvio Micali
Silvio Micali is an Italian-born computer scientist at MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and a professor of computer science in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science since 1983. His research centers on the theory of cryptography and information...

, and Ronald Rivest became the first to rigorously define the security requirements of digital signature schemes. They described a hierarchy of attack models for signature schemes, and also present the GMR signature scheme
GMR (cryptography)
In cryptography, GMR is a digital signature algorithm named after its inventors Shafi Goldwasser, Silvio Micali and Ron Rivest.As with RSA the security of the system is related to the difficulty of factoring very large numbers...

, the first that can be proven to prevent even an existential forgery against a chosen message attack.

Most early signature schemes were of a similar type: they involve the use of a trapdoor permutation, such as the RSA function, or in the case of the Rabin signature scheme, computing square modulo composite n. A trapdoor permutation family is a family of permutation
Permutation
In mathematics, the notion of permutation is used with several slightly different meanings, all related to the act of permuting objects or values. Informally, a permutation of a set of objects is an arrangement of those objects into a particular order...

s, specified by a parameter, that is easy to compute in the forward direction, but is difficult to compute in the reverse direction without already knowing the private key. However, for every parameter there is a "trapdoor" (private key) which when known, easily decrypts the message. Trapdoor permutations can be viewed as public-key encryption systems, where the parameter is the public key and the trapdoor is the secret key, and where encrypting corresponds to computing the forward direction of the permutation, while decrypting corresponds to the reverse direction. Trapdoor permutations can also be viewed as digital signature schemes, where computing the reverse direction with the secret key is thought of as signing, and computing the forward direction is done to verify signatures. Because of this correspondence, digital signatures are often described as based on public-key cryptosystems, where signing is equivalent to decryption and verification is equivalent to encryption, but this is not the only way digital signatures are computed.

Used directly, this type of signature scheme is vulnerable to a key-only existential forgery attack. To create a forgery, the attacker picks a random signature σ and uses the verification procedure to determine the message m corresponding to that signature. In practice, however, this type of signature is not used directly, but rather, the message to be signed is first hashed
Cryptographic hash function
A cryptographic hash function is a deterministic procedure that takes an arbitrary block of data and returns a fixed-size bit string, the hash value, such that an accidental or intentional change to the data will change the hash value...

 to produce a short digest that is then signed. This forgery attack, then, only produces the hash function output that corresponds to σ, but not a message that leads to that value, which does not lead to an attack. In the random oracle model, this hash-and-decrypt
Full Domain Hash
In cryptography, the Full Domain Hash is an RSA-based signature scheme that follows the hash-and-sign paradigm. It is provably secure in the random oracle model...

 form of signature is existentially unforgeable, even against a chosen-message attack.

There are several reasons to sign such a hash (or message digest) instead of the whole document.
  • For efficiency: The signature will be much shorter and thus save time since hashing is generally much faster than signing in practice.
  • For compatibility: Messages are typically bit strings, but some signature schemes operate on other domains (such as, in the case of RSA, numbers modulo a composite number N). A hash function can be used to convert an arbitrary input into the proper format.
  • For integrity: Without the hash function, the text "to be signed" may have to be split (separated) in blocks small enough for the signature scheme to act on them directly. However, the receiver of the signed blocks is not able to recognize if all the blocks are present and in the appropriate order.

Notions of security


In their foundational paper, Goldwasser, Micali, and Rivest lay out a hierarchy of attack models against digital signatures:
  1. In a key-only attack, the attacker is only given the public verification key.
  2. In a known message attack, the attacker is given valid signatures for a variety of messages known by the attacker but not chosen by the attacker.
  3. In an adaptive chosen message attack, the attacker first learns signatures on arbitrary messages of the attacker's choice.


They also describe a hierarchy of attack results:
  1. A total break results in the recovery of the signing key.
  2. A universal forgery attack results in the ability to forge signatures for any message.
  3. A selective forgery attack results in a signature on a message of the adversary's choice.
  4. An existential forgery merely results in some valid message/signature pair not already known to the adversary.


The strongest notion of security, therefore, is security against existential forgery under an adaptive chosen message attack.

Uses of digital signatures


As organizations move away from paper documents with ink signatures or authenticity stamps, digital signatures can provide added assurances of the evidence to provenance, identity, and status of an electronic document as well as acknowledging informed consent and approval by a signatory. The United States Government Printing Office (GPO) publishes electronic versions of the budget, public and private laws, and congressional bills with digital signatures. Universities including Penn State, University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

, and Stanford are publishing electronic student transcripts with digital signatures.

Below are some common reasons for applying a digital signature to communications:

Authentication


Although messages may often include information about the entity sending a message, that information may not be accurate. Digital signatures can be used to authenticate the source of messages. When ownership of a digital signature secret key is bound to a specific user, a valid signature shows that the message was sent by that user. The importance of high confidence in sender authenticity is especially obvious in a financial context. For example, suppose a bank's branch office sends instructions to the central office requesting a change in the balance of an account. If the central office is not convinced that such a message is truly sent from an authorized source, acting on such a request could be a grave mistake.

Integrity


In many scenarios, the sender and receiver of a message may have a need for confidence that the message has not been altered during transmission. Although encryption hides the contents of a message, it may be possible to change an encrypted message without understanding it. (Some encryption algorithms, known as nonmalleable
Malleability (cryptography)
Malleability is a property of some cryptographic algorithms. An encryption algorithm is malleable if it is possible for an adversary to transform a ciphertext into another ciphertext which decrypts to a related plaintext...

 ones, prevent this, but others do not.) However, if a message is digitally signed, any change in the message after signature will invalidate the signature. Furthermore, there is no efficient way to modify a message and its signature to produce a new message with a valid signature, because this is still considered to be computationally infeasible by most cryptographic hash functions (see collision resistance
Collision resistance
Collision resistance is a property of cryptographic hash functions: a hash function is collision resistant if it is hard to find two inputs that hash to the same output; that is, two inputs a and b such that H = H, and a ≠ b.Every hash function with more inputs than outputs will necessarily have...

).

Non-repudiation


Non-repudiation
Non-repudiation
Non-repudiation refers to a state of affairs where the purported maker of a statement will not be able to successfully challenge the validity of the statement or contract. The term is often seen in a legal setting wherein the authenticity of a signature is being challenged...

, or more specifically non-repudiation of origin, is an important aspect of digital signatures. By this property an entity that has signed some information cannot at a later time deny having signed it. Similarly, access to the public key only does not enable a fraudulent party to fake a valid signature.

Putting the private key on a smart card


All public key / private key cryptosystems depend entirely on keeping the private key secret. A private key can be stored on a user's computer, and protected by a local password, but this has two disadvantages:
  • the user can only sign documents on that particular computer
  • the security of the private key depends entirely on the security
    Computer insecurity
    Computer insecurity refers to the concept that a computer system is always vulnerable to attack, and that this fact creates a constant battle between those looking to improve security, and those looking to circumvent security.-Security and systems design:...

     of the computer


A more secure alternative is to store the private key on a smart card
Smart card
A smart card, chip card, or integrated circuit card , is any pocket-sized card with embedded integrated circuits. A smart card or microprocessor cards contain volatile memory and microprocessor components. The card is made of plastic, generally polyvinyl chloride, but sometimes acrylonitrile...

. Many smart cards are designed to be tamper-resistant (although some designs have been broken, notably by Ross Anderson and his students). In a typical digital signature implementation, the hash calculated from the document is sent to the smart card, whose CPU encrypts the hash using the stored private key of the user, and then returns the encrypted hash. Typically, a user must activate his smart card by entering a personal identification number
Personal identification number
A personal identification number is a secret numeric password shared between a user and a system that can be used to authenticate the user to the system. Typically, the user is required to provide a non-confidential user identifier or token and a confidential PIN to gain access to the system...

 or PIN code (thus providing two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication is an approach to authentication which requires the presentation of two different kinds of evidence that someone is who they say they are. It is a part of the broader family of multi-factor authentication, which is a defense in depth approach to security...

). It can be arranged that the private key never leaves the smart card, although this is not always implemented. If the smart card is stolen, the thief will still need the PIN code to generate a digital signature. This reduces the security of the scheme to that of the PIN system, although it still requires an attacker to possess the card. A mitigating factor is that private keys, if generated and stored on smart cards, are usually regarded as difficult to copy, and are assumed to exist in exactly one copy. Thus, the loss of the smart card may be detected by the owner and the corresponding certificate can be immediately revoked. Private keys that are protected by software only may be easier to copy, and such compromises are far more difficult to detect.

Using smart card readers with a separate keyboard


Entering a PIN code to activate the smart card commonly requires a numeric keypad. Some card readers have their own numeric keypad. This is safer than using a card reader integrated into a PC, and then entering the PIN using that computer's keyboard. Readers with a numeric keypad are meant to circumvent the eavesdropping threat where the computer might be running a keystroke logger
Keystroke logging
Keystroke logging is the action of tracking the keys struck on a keyboard, typically in a covert manner so that the person using the keyboard is unaware that their actions are being monitored...

, potentially compromising the PIN code. Specialized card readers are also less vulnerable to tampering with their software or hardware and are often EAL3
Evaluation Assurance Level
The Evaluation Assurance Level of an IT product or system is a numerical grade assigned following the completion of a Common Criteria security evaluation, an international standard in effect since 1999. The increasing assurance levels reflect added assurance requirements that must be met to...

 certified.

Other smart card designs


Smart card design is an active field, and there are smart card schemes which are intended to avoid these particular problems, though so far with little security proofs.

Using digital signatures only with trusted applications


One of the main differences between a digital signature and a written signature is that the user does not "see" what he signs. The user application presents a hash code to be encrypted by the digital signing algorithm using the private key. An attacker who gains control of the user's PC can possibly replace the user application with a foreign substitute, in effect replacing the user's own communications with those of the attacker. This could allow a malicious application to trick a user into signing any document by displaying the user's original on-screen, but presenting the attacker's own documents to the signing application.

To protect against this scenario, an authentication system can be set up between the user's application (word processor, email client, etc.) and the signing application. The general idea is to provide some means for both the user app and signing app to verify each other's integrity. For example, the signing application may require all requests to come from digitally signed binaries.

WYSIWYS



Technically speaking, a digital signature applies to a string of bits, whereas humans and applications "believe" that they sign the semantic interpretation of those bits. In order to be semantically interpreted the bit string must be transformed into a form that is meaningful for humans and applications, and this is done through a combination of hardware and software based processes on a computer system. The problem is that the semantic interpretation of bits can change as a function of the processes used to transform the bits into semantic content. It is relatively easy to change the interpretation of a digital document by implementing changes on the computer system where the document is being processed. From a semantic perspective this creates uncertainty about what exactly has been signed. WYSIWYS
WYSIWYS
WYSIWYS is an acronym for What You See Is What You Sign, used in cryptography to describe the property of digital signature systems that the semantic content of signed messages can not be changed, either by accident or intent.-Meaning:The concept of “digital signature”, first publicly described by...

 (What You See Is What You Sign) means that the semantic interpretation of a signed message cannot be changed. In particular this also means that a message cannot contain hidden information that the signer is unaware of, and that can be revealed after the signature has been applied. WYSIWYS is a desirable property of digital signatures that is difficult to guarantee because of the increasing complexity of modern computer systems.

Digital signatures vs. ink on paper signatures


An ink signature could be replicated from one document to another by copying the image manually or digitally, but to have credible signature copies that can resist some scrutiny is a significant manual or technical skill, and to produce ink signature copies that resist professional scrutiny is very difficult.

Digital signatures cryptographically bind an electronic identity to an electronic document and the digital signature cannot be copied to another document. Paper contracts sometimes have the ink signature block on the last page, and the previous pages may be replaced after a signature is applied. Digital signatures can be applied to an entire document, such that the digital signature on the last page will indicate tampering if any data on any of the pages have been altered, but this can also be achieved by signing with ink all pages of the contract.

Additionally, most digital certificates provided by certificate authorities to end users to sign documents can be obtained by at most gaining access to a victim's email inbox.

Important paper documents are signed in ink with all involved parties meeting in person, with additional identification forms other than the actual presence (like driver's licence, passports, fingerprints, etc.), and most usually with the presence of a respected notary that knows the involved parties, the signing often happens in a building which has security cameras and other forms of identification and physical security. The security that is added by these type of ink on paper signatures cannot be currently matched by digital only signatures.

Some digital signature algorithms

  • RSA-based signature schemes, such as RSA-PSS
  • DSA
    Digital Signature Algorithm
    The Digital Signature Algorithm is a United States Federal Government standard or FIPS for digital signatures. It was proposed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in August 1991 for use in their Digital Signature Standard , specified in FIPS 186, adopted in 1993. A minor...

     and its elliptic curve
    Elliptic curve cryptography
    Elliptic curve cryptography is an approach to public-key cryptography based on the algebraic structure of elliptic curves over finite fields. The use of elliptic curves in cryptography was suggested independently by Neal Koblitz and Victor S...

     variant ECDSA
    Elliptic Curve DSA
    The Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm is a variant of the Digital Signature Algorithm which uses Elliptic curve cryptography.-Key and signature size comparison to DSA:...

  • ElGamal signature scheme
    ElGamal signature scheme
    The ElGamal signature scheme is a digital signature scheme which is based on the difficulty of computing discrete logarithms. It was described by Taher ElGamal in 1984....

     as the predecessor to DSA, and variants Schnorr signature
    Schnorr signature
    In cryptography, a Schnorr signature is a digital signature produced by the Schnorr signature algorithm. Its security is based on the intractability of certain discrete logarithm problems. It is considered the simplest digital signature scheme to be provably secure in a random oracle model . It is...

     and Pointcheval–Stern signature algorithm
  • Rabin signature algorithm
    Rabin signature algorithm
    In cryptography the Rabin Signature Scheme is a method of Digital signature originally proposed by Michael O. Rabin in 1979. The Rabin Signature Scheme was one of the first digital signature schemes proposed, and it was the first to relate the hardness of forgery directly to the problem...

  • Pairing
    Pairing
    The concept of pairing treated here occurs in mathematics.-Definition:Let R be a commutative ring with unity, and let M, N and L be three R-modules.A pairing is any R-bilinear map e:M \times N \to L...

    -based schemes such as BLS
    BLS (Cryptography)
    In cryptography, the Boneh–Lynn–Shacham signature scheme allows a user to verify that a signer is authentic. The scheme uses a pairing function for verification and signatures are group elements in some elliptic curve. Working in an elliptic curve provides defense against index calculus...

  • Undeniable signature
    Undeniable signature
    Undeniable signatures are a form of digital signature invented by David Chaum and Hans van Antwerpen in 1989. They have two distinctive features,# The verification process is interactive, so that the signatory can limit who can verify the signature....

    s
  • Aggregate signature - a signature scheme that supports aggregation: Given n signatures on n messages from n users, it is possible to aggregate all these signatures into a single signature whose size is constant in the number of users. This single signature will convince the verifier that the n users did indeed sign the n original messages.

The current state of use — legal and practical



Digital signature schemes share basic prerequisites that— regardless of cryptographic theory or legal provision— they need to have meaning:
  1. Quality algorithms : Some public-key algorithms are known to be insecure, practicable attacks against them having been discovered.
    Quality implementations : An implementation of a good algorithm (or protocol
    Cryptographic protocol
    A security protocol is an abstract or concrete protocol that performs a security-related function and applies cryptographic methods.A protocol describes how the algorithms should be used...

    ) with mistake(s) will not work.
    The private key must remain private : if it becomes known to any other party, that party can produce perfect digital signatures of anything whatsoever.
    The public key owner must be verifiable : A public key associated with Bob actually came from Bob. This is commonly done using a public key infrastructure
    Public key infrastructure
    Public Key Infrastructure is a set of hardware, software, people, policies, and procedures needed to create, manage, distribute, use, store, and revoke digital certificates. In cryptography, a PKI is an arrangement that binds public keys with respective user identities by means of a certificate...

     and the public keyuser association is attested by the operator of the PKI (called a certificate authority
    Certificate authority
    In cryptography, a certificate authority, or certification authority, is an entity that issues digital certificates. The digital certificate certifies the ownership of a public key by the named subject of the certificate...

    ). For 'open' PKIs in which anyone can request such an attestation (universally embodied in a cryptographically protected identity certificate), the possibility of mistaken attestation is non trivial. Commercial PKI operators have suffered several publicly known problems. Such mistakes could lead to falsely signed, and thus wrongly attributed, documents. 'closed' PKI systems are more expensive, but less easily subverted in this way.
    Users (and their software) must carry out the signature protocol properly.


Only if all of these conditions are met will a digital signature actually be any evidence of who sent the message, and therefore of their assent to its contents. Legal enactment cannot change this reality of the existing engineering possibilities, though some such have not reflected this actuality.

Legislatures, being importuned by businesses expecting to profit from operating a PKI, or by the technological avant-garde advocating new solutions to old problems, have enacted statutes and/or regulations in many jurisdictions authorizing, endorsing, encouraging, or permitting digital signatures and providing for (or limiting) their legal effect. The first appears to have been in Utah
Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

 in the United States, followed closely by the states Massachusetts
Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

 and California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

. Other countries have also passed statutes or issued regulations in this area as well and the UN has had an active model law project for some time. These enactments (or proposed enactments) vary from place to place, have typically embodied expectations at variance (optimistically or pessimistically) with the state of the underlying cryptographic engineering
Cryptographic engineering
Cryptographic engineering is the discipline of using cryptography to solve human problems. Cryptography is typically applied when trying to ensure data confidentiality, to authenticate people or devices, or to verify data integrity in risky environments....

, and have had the net effect of confusing potential users and specifiers, nearly all of whom are not cryptographically knowledgeable. Adoption of technical standards for digital signatures have lagged behind much of the legislation, delaying a more or less unified engineering position on interoperability
Interoperability
Interoperability is a property referring to the ability of diverse systems and organizations to work together . The term is often used in a technical systems engineering sense, or alternatively in a broad sense, taking into account social, political, and organizational factors that impact system to...

, algorithm
Algorithm
In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm is an effective method expressed as a finite list of well-defined instructions for calculating a function. Algorithms are used for calculation, data processing, and automated reasoning...

 choice, key lengths, and so on what the engineering is attempting to provide.
See also: ABA digital signature guidelines
ABA digital signature guidelines
The ABA digital signature guidelines are a set of guidelines published on 1 August 1996 by the American Bar Association Section of Science and Technology Law. The authors are members of the Section's Information Security Committee...


Industry standards



Some industries have established common interoperability standards for the use of digital signatures between members of the industry and with regulators. These include the Automotive Network Exchange
Automotive Network Exchange
ANXeBusiness Corp. is the company that owns and operates the Automotive Network Exchange , a large private extranet that connects automotive suppliers to automotive manufacturers...

 for the automobile industry and the SAFE-BioPharma Association for the healthcare industry.

Using separate key pairs for signing and encryption


In several countries, a digital signature has a status somewhat like that of a traditional pen and paper signature, like in the EU digital signature legislation. Generally, these provisions mean that anything digitally signed legally binds the signer of the document to the terms therein. For that reason, it is often thought best to use separate key pairs for encrypting and signing. Using the encryption key pair, a person can engage in an encrypted conversation (e.g., regarding a real estate transaction), but the encryption does not legally sign every message he sends. Only when both parties come to an agreement do they sign a contract with their signing keys, and only then are they legally bound by the terms of a specific document. After signing, the document can be sent over the encrypted link. If a signing key is lost or compromised, it can be revoked to mitigate any future transactions. If an encryption key is lost, a backup or key escrow should be utilized to continue viewing encrypted content. Signing keys should never be backed up or escrowed.

See also

  • Digital certificate
  • Public key infrastructure
    Public key infrastructure
    Public Key Infrastructure is a set of hardware, software, people, policies, and procedures needed to create, manage, distribute, use, store, and revoke digital certificates. In cryptography, a PKI is an arrangement that binds public keys with respective user identities by means of a certificate...

  • Digital signatures and law
    Digital signatures and law
    -Argentina:* .* .* .-Bermuda:* * -Brazil:* - Brazilian law states that any digital document is valid for the law if it is certified by ICP-Brasil or if it is certified by other PKI and the concerned parties agree as to the validity of the document.- Canada :* - Canadian law distinguishes between the...

  • Electronic signature
    Electronic signature
    An electronic signature, or e-signature, is any electronic means that indicates either that a person adopts the contents of an electronic message, or more broadly that the person who claims to have written a message is the one who wrote it . By comparison, a signature is a stylized script...

  • Global Trust Center
    Global Trust Center
    Global Trust Center is an international not-for-profit organisation that aims to develop policies to protect the rights and integrity of individual users of digital communications while reaffirming accountability and legal values...

  • GNU Privacy Guard
    GNU Privacy Guard
    GNU Privacy Guard is a GPL Licensed alternative to the PGP suite of cryptographic software. GnuPG is compliant with RFC 4880, which is the current IETF standards track specification of OpenPGP...


Books

  • J. Katz and Y. Lindell, "Introduction to Modern Cryptography" (Chapman & Hall/CRC Press, 2007)


For books in English on electronic signatures, see:
  • Jeremiah S. Buckley, John P. Kromer, Margo H. K. Tank, and R. David Whitaker, The Law of Electronic Signatures (3rd Edition, West Publishing, 2010);
  • Lorna Brazell, Electronic Signatures and Identities Law and Regulation (2nd edn, London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2008);
  • Stephen Mason, Electronic Signatures in Law (2nd edition, Tottel, 2007);
  • Dennis Campbell, editor, E-Commerce and the Law of Digital Signatures (Oceana Publications, 2005);
  • M. H. M Schellenkens, Electronic Signatures Authentication Technology from a Legal Perspective, (TMC Asser Press, 2004).


For translations of electronic signature cases from Europe, Brazil, China and Colombia into English, see the Digital Evidence and Electronic Signature Law Review.