Digital Signatures in Cloud-Based Document Management Systems

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By Terri Knowles, freelance writer.

Digital documents are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they’re so simple to make and manage. Their searchability is through the roof, and if you stick to the naming conventions, they can be archived incredibly effectively.

The problem is that these files are so easy to alter and fabricate. Sure, it all leaves a digital footprint, but this is not always easy to trace. Fortunately, as of lately, there are a few methods you can use to minimize the impact of this.

One of them hides in the blockchain technology. This tech trend helps make your files immutable without the right key. Another is digital signatures. These play a similar role to conventional signatures - authentication and validation of the person in charge.

So, how do these digital signatures work in a cloud-based document management system, and what you should know on this topic?

1.   Digital signatures are perfect for cloud-based systems

One of the best things about cloud-based systems is that they allow for a much greater collaboration methodology. Multiple people can work on the same file, which will be updated in real-time. The version control may be a bit tricky; however, since every activity on cloud-based platforms leaves a digital footprint, even this isn’t too big of a challenge.

Now, in the traditional workflow, one of the things that constantly caused bottlenecks and holdups was the concept of signatures. Namely, working on one document and waiting for someone to sign it before you can move on to the next stage was incredibly inconvenient. The document would have to travel or be scanned, printed, hand-signed, and all those other inconvenient things.

The problem was that the technology was still not there, and digital signatures were unreliable (and easy to forge). Fortunately, this is no longer the case. An M-FIles digital signature is as reliable as a conventional signature, meaning there’s no longer any holdup.

2.   Digital signatures are pretty reliable

One of the biggest concerns people have with digital signatures is that they are very easy to forge. Well, the thing is that conventional signatures aren’t that hard to forge. With modern detection tools, it’s easier to discover forged digital signatures than a forgery on their conventional counterpart.

The mechanics behind the technology that makes them so are quite complex. First, there’s the issue of public key verification. The signature doesn’t go directly to the document. The system will start by checking if it was signed with the corresponding private key. All of this is made possible through public key infrastructure (PKI). This way, data integrity is verified, and everything is kept secure.

Most importantly, the system keeps the digital footprint. The system has timestamps, device IDs, and IPs, which means that any foul play will be easily diagnosed.

3.   The pandemic was a massive turning point

In the pandemic, the entire business world was turned upside down. People needed to find a way to conduct business processes that don’t require you to be on the location and are contactless (for health-related reasons).

You see, this is not the first way that a long-distance signature was used. Telegraph and fax signatures were a thing; however, they had one significant bottleneck - most people didn’t have the necessary hardware to receive them. With digital signatures, everyone with a phone, tablet, or computer and access to the internet has all they need.

During the pandemic, the world was forced to switch to digital signatures, but once they did, they saw just how advantageous it was. Not having to travel to put your signature on a single document is a great idea, even if you are allowed to travel. It saves time, money, and the environment. Sadly, it took such a disaster for the world to realize the massive potential behind this concept.

4.   E-signature vs digital signature

It’s also important to make a distinction between digital and electronic signatures. They’re not the same. With an e-signature, you can just fill a blank box using a keyboard, keypad, or mouse; if you have a stylus or a touchscreen, you can even sign it “the old-fashioned” way.

A digital signature is something else entirely. It requires you to get registered and receive a certificate. In other words, a digital signature is an e-signature that undergoes a much harsher vetting process and receives a special certificate.

In other words, digital signatures are far more reliable and much more trustworthy than e-signatures. Sure, getting a digital signature may sound like a lot to handle, but remember that you only do this once. From then on, you can use and reuse it with the same speed as an e-signature.

In other words, if you believe this is something that you’ll commonly use, it’s worth applying for a digital signature. It’s not like it’s too expensive. It also really doesn’t take that long to get certified, so what’s the downside? The only way to explain it is to call the problem by its real name - resistance to change.

5.   Better standardization

One of the biggest challenges of cloud-based document management systems is introducing standardization. What makes standardization so challenging? Although templates are available and easy to find/download, there are so many templates. Ironically, this makes standardization more complex.

Well, with the help of digital signatures, at least all the files that need to be signed will be signed similarly (from the legal standpoint). When all the people involved have their digital signatures, processing these files will be much easier. The compliances are also stepping up to catch up with digital signatures.

The alert system will notify users involved of any unsigned documents, which means that all sorts of mishaps will be much less likely. Keep in mind that achieving higher consistency benefits everyone.

Wrap up

Ultimately, we do everything online, so it only makes sense to start taking online signatures more seriously. Cybersecurity and file integrity of cloud services have advanced to the point where this is possible, so why pass on this amazing opportunity? Soon, everyone will have to make this transition, so why wait? Be an early adopter and start reaping the benefits as soon as possible.

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