Can You Electronically Sign Documents & Should You?

Joshua Lockhart 02-04-2013

can you electronically sign a documentPerhaps you’ve heard your tech-savvy friends throw around both the terms electronic signature and digital signature. Maybe you’ve even heard them used interchangeably. However, you should know that they are not the same. In fact, they couldn’t be more different.


digital signature is an encrypted authentication that is attached to a document so its receiver can verify that you are the person actually sending it. Its a bit more technical than anything I’d like to get into today, for an electronic signature is a bit more lightweight. In essence, it’s the electronic form of your physical, stylized signature, and it can be visibly attached to any document you send out over the Internet.

Such a signature can be added using a digital image, a tablet-like device, or a specialized app like HelloSign HelloSign: Use Electronic Signatures On Documents [Web & iOS] Read More or Signnow Signnow: A Simple & Free Electronic Signature Tool Read More .

When Would You Use An Electronic Signature?

can you electronically sign a document

There are a variety of reasons you might use an electronic signature, but most of them reside in the Land of Convenience. Generally speaking, anytime you’ve had to put your signature on a screen, you’ve used a electronic signature. This could be in a checkout line, with Square Square - Mobile Credit Card Processing For The Masses Read More , or even via email.

Most often, however, you would use an electronic signature to sign a PDF file. More specifically, you might be signing a contract or filling out a form that requires hand-written approval. After signing your signature onto the document (using whatever means – Adobe Reader even allows for it), you can send it off to wherever you need to. The principle of the whole ordeal is quite similar to sending out a faxed document.


Legally speaking, electronic signatures should be accepted just like a normal physical signature would. Based on my personal experience, I’ve used them to sign apartment leases and even binding contracts. However, your results may vary. Occasionally, there are individuals who do not understand the concept of these signatures, and there could be some concern for “liability” on their part. Don’t waste your breath on an argument, though. Sometimes, that’s just how the world is.

Are Electronic Signatures Safe?

can you electronically sign a document

Simple answer: no.

To elaborate, anyone could steal your electronic signature and use it for their own not-so-nice purposes, but think about it. How many times have you signed a receipt to verify your credit card? How many documents have you signed over the entire course of your life? How many waitresses, cashiers, public officials, and deliverymen could have copied this signature over for their personal uses?


You see, your real-life, physical signature is just as unsafe as your digital one. Anyone could copy it down or memorize it. Individuals who are a bit more innovative could even transfer it to their computer and even create a digital version all on their own. Anyone can be a fraud if they want to be, and in all honesty, a digital signature seems to be a bit more secure these days. At least it can be traced right back to you.

Should You Use An Electronic Signature?

can you electronically sign a document

By now, you may be a bit paranoid about signatures as a whole. No need to fear – we’ve used them for years, and this shouldn’t sway you from continuing to use them. Too often, the legal consequences that result from the theft of a signature are too heavy for a petty criminal, and those that would be brave enough to steal it likely have their stakes set on higher-profile crime. Don’t worry so much.

However, anything that has to do with finances involves risk. If you purchase stock, you risk your finances to a company’s fate. If you take money with you, you risk losing it to a passing wind. If you accept a job, you risk getting fired. There are by far more things to worry about than just having your signature stolen. Live life, folks.


Perhaps you may still find an electronic signature too risky. In such a case, the digital signature would likely be more your style. Using specialized algorithms, passwords, and authenticity certificates, these types of signatures are even safer than your physical one.

So you may disagree, and that’s respectable. I’d love to hear what you think. Should you use an electronic signature? Have you ever had your signature stolen through electronic means? Let’s see what you have to say in the comments. 

Image Credits: TMAB2003NobMousechrismear, hoyasmeg

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  1. Mykolas
    January 12, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    You forgot to mention

  2. Jerrod
    November 12, 2016 at 12:51 pm

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  3. Keith Swartz
    April 4, 2013 at 4:45 am

    Been wanting to do this for sometime. Thanks for the 'Primer' on the topic.

  4. Manuth Chek
    April 3, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    How can I make it (and make sure it's very secure)?

  5. Marek S?owikowski
    April 3, 2013 at 12:36 am

    Digital signatures make sense only if me and my business partnerr agree to use them. If so, there are many firms which can help securing documents and communcation channels. If signed documents help me to make money, I will be able to pay for it. I do not need any knowledge about science and technology behind PKI and everything else.

  6. Rama
    April 2, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    The paragraph under "Are Electronic Signatures Safe?" is so incorrect that it's laughable, and makes the author look juvenile.

    Digital signatures use a key pair (public and private keys). You keep the private key and never ever publish it or give it away anywhere. People cannot simply "steal" the digital signature of a document as they don't have the private key, with which to apply the digital signature to another document. They cannot copy down or memorize the digital signature as, again, they don't have the private key!

    Quite frankly this post is a waste of pixels, and for that matter, a waste of time to respond to; other than warning people that the post, factually, is not accurate.

    Excerpt below is from this source:

    “key pair”
    “key pair” means a pair of keys held by or for a person that includes a private key and a public key that are mathematically related to, but different from, each other. (biclé)

    “private key”
    “private key” means a string of data that

    (a) is used in asymmetric cryptography to encrypt data contained in an electronic document; and
    (b) is unique to the person who is identified in, or can be identified through, a digital signature certificate and corresponds only to the public key in that certificate. (clé privée)
    “public key”
    “public key” means a string of data contained in a digital signature certificate that

    (a) is used in asymmetric cryptography to decrypt data contained in an electronic document that was encrypted through the application of the private key in the key pair; and
    (b) corresponds only to the private key in the key pair. (clé publique)

    • Joshua Lockhart
      April 2, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      Did you happen to read the part where I explained that digital signatures and electronic signatures are two completely different things?

    • Joshua Lockhart
      April 3, 2013 at 12:34 am

      Rama, I will say that this is a very thorough explanation of digital signatures. It's well-written, and it certainly complements the article.

      However, I believe that you thought I was using "electronic" and "digital" interchangeably.

  7. macwitty
    April 2, 2013 at 9:33 am

    From my point of view. An electronic signature is just for having a document looking nicer - more like it use to be when we sent paper. It has no legal power. A digital signature is a legal signature.

    • Joshua Lockhart
      April 3, 2013 at 12:31 am

      As Rama explained, digital signatures are great. (Granted, this article is about electronic signatures.)

      When you really get down to it, it seems silly that signatures have so much value at all.

  8. Kirby
    April 2, 2013 at 9:21 am

    Digital signatures are definitely harder to be stolen than electronic signatures in my opinion.

  9. Junil Maharjan
    April 2, 2013 at 5:16 am

    though printers are useful, digital documents are taking more priority. no waste and good for the environment as well as most printer are too much pain to manage with the price of the ink soaring every year, the paper getting stuck too much and many more reasons.

  10. Zhong J
    April 2, 2013 at 3:15 am

    Digital signatures are coined as "going into the futuristic of things", where everything we do is electronically permissive online and through computers which can handle large amount of requests, no one can argue that. However, nothing will be safe for these operations since we ALL have access to a computer with equal function of obtaining the same goal. I mean, how many hackers are growing each year?

    • Joshua Lockhart
      April 3, 2013 at 12:32 am

      I may sound ignorant, but I don't think it's that bad.

  11. Florin Ardelian
    April 2, 2013 at 2:50 am

    I really wish we'd push more for the adoption of digital signatures.

    • Joshua Lockhart
      April 3, 2013 at 12:33 am

      Sure thing.