From pen to pixels: How digital signatures secure your business

From data breaches to malware attacks, protecting your organisation can feel like a never-ending battle. One of the low-cost, easy-to-implement cybersecurity measures is digital signatures. They're not a silver bullet, but they offer a powerful tool for companies prioritising data security.  

We'll explore how digital signatures work, the benefits they offer, and the challenges you might face during implementation. Most importantly, we'll help you decide if digital signatures are the perfect "low-hanging fruit" to level up your company's cyber security strategy and protect your revenue-generating assets. 

This article covers:


What are digital signatures? 

Digital signatures are like putting a wax seal on your document: They ensure the document hasnt been altered and authenticate your identity as the signer.  

Think of them as unique digital fingerprints that are cryptographically bound to electronic documents or data. They're generated through mathematical algorithms - such as the Digital Signature Algorithm (DSA) that helps verify the document’s content and the signer’s identity, creating a link between the two.

Here's the scenario: you sign a PDF document, be it a contract or a legal document. You read the content, sign it and send it back. But what if someone intercepts it mid-flight, like a sneaky digital Robin Hood? They could alter the contents and start chaos with your signature underneath.  

Digital signatures are for the big leagues: contracts, legal documents, and anything where a single alteration could cause a world of trouble. They prevent fraud, alteration and repudiation by acting like a digital security guard, ensuring the document you sent is the same one the recipient receives.  

How do digital signatures work?  

To use digital signatures, you need a pair of cryptographic keys - a private key and a public key. Your private key is a closely guarded secret, while the public key can be shared (more or less) freely. 

To sign a document digitally, you use your private key to create a signature that is cryptographically bound to the document's contents. This signature is virtually impossible to forge without your private key. 

When someone receives your signed document, they can use your public key to decrypt the document and verify that: 

  1. The signature is authentic and created with your private key, confirming the signer's identity. 
  2. The document hasn't been modified since signing, ensuring data integrity. 

In the process of using a digital signature, the content of the document is assigned a specific hash – a unique code for the document’s contents. Hashing means you assign an irreversible series of numbers and characters to an exact document – the binary of a document.  

Any change to the document would alter this code, invalidating the signature's verification. 

This approach of encryption with private keys and verification with public keys, combined with hashing, allows digital signatures to provide authentication, data integrity, and non-repudiation assurances. 

The sender can’t deny signing a document, and the recipient can trust that a successfully verified signature means the data hasn’t been altered during transit - protecting against tampering and impersonation attacks. 

What’s the difference between digital signatures and electronic signatures? 

Electronic signatures are a broad category that includes any electronic method of signing documents, like clicking to agree, drawing with a mouse, or using a signature image. They provide basic evidence of intent but lack strong security features. They're often used in software programs where you simply type your name or add an image of your signature. 

Digital signatures, on the other hand, use cryptographic operations to bind a signer's identity to the document contents in a non-forgeable way.  

  1. Digital signatures involve hashing the document to create a unique representation of its contents. 
  2. The hash is then encrypted with the signer’s private key to create the digital signatures. 
  3. The verification involves decrypting the signature with the signer’s public key and comparing the resulting hash with a newly computed hash of the document. 

This cryptographic approach provides much stronger assurances of authentication, data integrity, and non-repudiation compared to basic electronic signatures. 

This could also interest you: Cyber security and encryption: Best practices for your business 

Many e-signature software products incorporate digital signature capabilities under the hood for enhanced security. However, not all electronic signatures are true digital signatures with end-to-end encryption and tamper-proofing. 

So while both are electronic forms of signing, digital signatures apply advanced cryptography and mathematical techniques to ensure documents remain verifiably authentic, unaltered, and legally binding in the digital world. 

CIA Triad: How do digital signatures protect your integrity? 

In cybersecurity, CIA stands for Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. In this article, we're focusing on the "I" – Integrity, which means making sure your data stays unaltered.  

Digital signatures create a link between the data’s integrity and the signer’s identity. That ensures: 

  • Authentication - Verifying the signer's identity prevents repudiation. 
  • Data integrity - Detecting any unauthorised modifications to the signed data. 
  • Non-repudiation - The signer can’t deny having signed the original data. 

Industries like finance, legal, government, and healthcare have stringent integrity requirements for documents like contracts, transactions, records etc. Digital signatures provide a tamper-evident seal. To protect integrity in your cyber security strategy, digital signatures should be considered as a must. 

Which risks do digital signatures help mitigate? 

Digital signatures offer a powerful cyber security layer, but are they always essential? The decision on whether your business needs digital signatures depends on your biggest risks. What are your revenue generating assets and what threats do they face?  

Here are some key risks to consider: 

1. He said, she said: Risk of repudiation and validity 

Transactions between strangers or infrequent business partners carry a higher risk of someone denying they signed a document. Digital signatures act as a digital witness, eliminating the "he said, she said" scenario. 

2. Risk of unauthorised alteration or compromise 

 There are risks of the signature being compromised or the document being altered after signing, e.g., through man-in-the-middle attacks. However, digital signatures aim to detect any unauthorised modifications to the signed document. 

3. Need for provable, legally binding records in the future 

Some agreements or records might be revisited years down the line for audits or disputes. Digital signatures offer a high level of proof that the document hasn't been tampered with and show who actually signed it. 

4. Regulatory compliance risks 

Certain industries like finance, healthcare, and government have strict regulations regarding electronic signatures. Digital signatures can ensure you comply with these legal requirements and avoid fines. 

Digital signatures aren't a one-size-fits-all solution, but they are a low-threshold access point and an easy target for efficient cyber security strategies. By considering the potential risks of repudiation, tampering, future needs, regulations, and identity theft, you can make an informed decision about whether digital signatures are the right security boost for your specific needs. 

Which industries need digital signatures most?  

For some industries, the “integrity” of their data is top priority – and the risk of alteration could have harmful consequences. Let’s have a look at the industries, that have the highest requirements when it comes to authenticity and trustworthiness of critical information. 

Financial institutions 

Banks, investment firms and insurers deal with money, contracts, and other highly sensitive documents and transactions. One tiny alteration could lead to financial chaos. Digital signatures ensure every transaction and agreement arrives untampered with, keeping your money safe. 

Legal services

Contracts, court documents, and legal agreements – the legal world thrives on accuracy. Digital signatures guarantee these documents haven't been tampered with, preventing potential lawsuits and ensuring everyone's on the same legal page. 

This could interest you: Cyber security examples for professional service providers


From citizen records to national security documents, governments handle highly confidential information. Digital signatures provide a vital layer of security, safeguarding sensitive data and fostering public trust. 


Patient records are the lifeblood of healthcare. Patient medical records, prescriptions, and treatment data must remain tamper-proof, as compromised integrity could jeopardize lives through misdiagnosis or improper care. Digital signatures ensure diagnoses and treatments are based on accurate, unaltered information, potentially saving lives. 


How do digital signatures protect your organisation? 

If sensitive documents, contracts or agreements are part of your daily operations, you want to make sure you can trust that the content of the documents cant be accessed by unauthorised persons. Digital signatures elevate your integrity game. Here’s how:

Protect your data integrity 

Digital signatures create an unforgeable fingerprint bound to the document contents. Any tampering or modification is immediately detected, preventing fraud and manipulation. 

The SolarWinds attack in 2020 serves as a stark reminder of the importance of robust digital signing standards: At least 18000 systems worldwide were infected by malicious code in the source code and the code signing system – injected before it went through the signing process.  

The incident highlights the need for a more comprehensive approach to code signing, where every code revision is digitally signed by the developer, and all signatures are verified during the build process to ensure the integrity of the final product. 

Comply with regulations 

Many industries like finance, healthcare, government, and legal have regulations mandating secure electronic signatures. Digital signatures help organisations meet these compliance requirements. 

Want to know more? This might interest you: Compliance isn’t security: Why organisations should go beyond certifications

Authenticate your documents and ensure non-repudiation 

Digital signatures authenticate the signer's identity and provide non-repudiation - the signer can’t deny having signed the document, ensuring trust and accountability. 

Keep your data in check and make sure it hasnt been touched, without you knowing – digital signatures help you ensure that. However, digital signatures are only safe as long as you keep your private key private. No one, not even your manager, should have access to your private key, so nobody can forge your signature and pretend to be you. 

What are the biggest challenges when implementing digital signatures? 

Digital signatures offer a powerful cyber security boost, but even the best tools have their hurdles and you have only so many resources to give. Here's a breakdown of the biggest challenges you might face when implementing them – and fixes to overcome them: 

1. Train your employees and integrate digital signatures in your daily business 

Not every user is familiar with public and private keys, making it difficult to understand how digital signatures work. There will always be employees who may not immediately see the value in adopting digital signatures. This can lead to resistance and a lack of buy-in from employees.  

You might also be interested: Top 5 challenges for CISOs in professional services

The Fix: Training is key. Invest in clear and concise training materials to educate your team on the benefits and functionalities of digital signatures. 

2. Get the right software – avoid manual struggles 

Manual key management can be a tedious and error-prone process. Free software options might seem attractive, but paid solutions often offer better features and user experience, saving time and frustration in the long run. 

The Fix: Consider the size and needs of your organisation. For larger teams, user-friendly paid software can simplify the process and improve overall efficiency. 

3. Install efficient workflows 

Just because someone understands how to use digital signatures doesn't mean they'll integrate them into their workflow. 

The Fix: Develop clear policies and procedures outlining how and when to use digital signatures. Enforce these procedures gently, focusing on education and the benefits of secure document management. 

4. Implement with limited resources 

Implementing any new system and cyber security measure requires time and resources. Small businesses might hesitate due to perceived cost or complexity. 

The Fix: Digital signature software is generally affordable and scalable. The cost of implementation should be weighed against the potential risks of unsecured documents. 

5. Communicate encryption standards with vendors and partners 

Even if your company uses digital signatures, your partners and vendors might not be on the same page. If you’ve got higher cyber security maturity than the organisation, you’re sending your document to, they might go: Wait a minute – how do I decrypt and read this document? 

The Fix: Communication is key. Before sending digitally signed documents, discuss your use of digital signatures with your partners. Clearly explain the encryption standards and any software requirements they might need. This proactive approach can save you time and headaches down the road. 

Watch video: Incident response strategies: Navigating today's threat landscape

While these challenges require planning and investment, the long-term benefits of enhanced data integrity, security, compliance, and efficiency make digital signatures a worthwhile investment for organisations handling sensitive information or high-stakes transactions.   

How to decide if your organisation needs digital signatures 

Due diligence, regulations or preventing security incidents – you will find several reasons for your company to install digital signatures. See if they’re the right fit for your organisation: 

  • High-stakes deals: Imagine a million-dollar contract. Digital signatures offer an extra layer of security, preventing someone from denying they signed or claiming the document was tampered with. Peace of mind for those big decisions. 
  • Keeping it confidential: Sharing sensitive documents with clients or partners? Digital signatures ensure only authorised parties can access them and that the information remains unaltered. 
  • Building trust online: Working with new businesses or remote clients? Digital signatures act as a digital handshake, fostering trust and confidence in the online space. 
  • Regulatory requirements: Some industries like finance or healthcare have strict rules regarding electronic signatures. Digital signatures can ensure you comply with these regulations. 

Not every document needs a digital security guard. For low-risk situations like internal memos, a simple password-protected document might be enough. Consider the sensitivity of the information, the level of trust required, and any potential future needs. If these factors point towards enhanced security and peace of mind, then digital signatures might be the digital upgrade for your business.  

Strengthen security in your organisation 

If you could use some guidance on how to go about your security efforts, including digital signature strategies, we’re here to assist you. Check out our all-in-one security platform or reach out for a talk with one of our experts. 



Frequently Asked Questions

Who uses digital signatures?

Digital Signatures are used by a wide range of organisations and individuals for secure online transactions, including organisations for contracts, agreements, and other sensitive documents. Governments for official forms, permits, and licenses, healthcare providers for medical records and prescriptions and financial institutions for secure transactions and online banking.

What are digital signatures used for?

Digital signatures are used to electronically sign documents, ensuring authenticity and preventing tampering. This is useful for contracts, agreements, financial transactions, medical records, and any other scenario where trust and document integrity are a priority.

How do you validate a digital signature?

Validating digital signatures often involves using the recipient's software to check the signature against the signer's certificate. The process typically involves right-clicking the signature and selecting a "verify" or "validate" option within the software.  If successful, it will confirm the document's authenticity and that it hasn't been altered.

What is the purpose of using digital signatures for code signing?

The purpose of using digital signatures for code signing is to ensure the integrity and authenticity of software code. When developers digitally sign their code, it creates a unique fingerprint that is cryptographically bound to the code's contents. This signature can be verified by users or systems to confirm that the code has not been tampered with since it was signed and that it originated from a legitimate developer or software vendor.

About the author

Emrick Etheridge Emrick Etheridge
Emrick Etheridge

Emrick Etheridge is an associate Information Security Consultant and a certified ISO 27001 Lead Auditor. Prior to DataGuard, Emrick studied Computer Science at Anglia Ruskin University (Cambridge) before entering a world of Digital Forensics and Information Security for a Cambridge based company. In these roles, he consulted merchants who required either a digital forensic investigation or re-certification. Emrick was also a certified Cyber Essentials assessor at the heart of the pandemic which proved to be an interesting time in industry. In his current role, he helps SMEs create an Information Security Management System (ISMS) to strengthen their security posture as well as consulting them on their path to obtaining ISO 27001 certification.

Explore more articles

Contact Sales

See what DataGuard can do for you.

Find out how our Privacy, InfoSec and Compliance solutions can help you boost trust, reduce risks and drive revenue.

  • 100% success in ISO 27001 audits to date 
  • 40% total cost of ownership (TCO) reduction
  • A scalable easy-to-use web-based platform
  • Actionable business advice from in-house experts

Trusted by customers

Canon  Logo Contact Hyatt Logo Contact Holiday Inn  Logo Contact Unicef  Logo Contact Veganz Logo Contact Burger King  Logo Contact First Group Logo Contact TOCA Social Logo Contact Arri Logo Contact K Line  Logo Contact

Get to know DataGuard

Simplify compliance

  • External data protection officer
  • Audit of your privacy status-quo
  • Ongoing GDPR support from a industry experts
  • Automate repetitive privacy tasks
  • Priority support during breaches and emergencies
  • Get a defensible GDPR position - fast!

Trusted by customers

Canon  Logo Contact Hyatt Logo Contact Holiday Inn  Logo Contact Unicef  Logo Contact Veganz Logo Contact Burger King  Logo Contact First Group Logo Contact TOCA Social Logo Contact Arri Logo Contact K Line  Logo Contact

Get to know DataGuard

Simplify compliance

  • Continuous support on your journey towards the certifications on ISO 27001 and TISAX®️, as well as NIS2 Compliance.
  • Benefit from 1:1 consulting
  • Set up an easy-to-use ISMS with our Info-Sec platform
  • Automatically generate mandatory policies

100% success in ISO 27001 audits to date



TISAX® is a registered trademark of the ENX Association. DataGuard is not affiliated with the ENX Association. We provide consultation and support for the assessment on TISAX® only. The ENX Association does not take any responsibility for any content shown on DataGuard's website.

Trusted by customers

Canon  Logo Contact Hyatt Logo Contact Holiday Inn  Logo Contact Unicef  Logo Contact Veganz Logo Contact Burger King  Logo Contact First Group Logo Contact TOCA Social Logo Contact Arri Logo Contact K Line  Logo Contact

Get to know DataGuard

Simplify compliance

  • Proactive support
  • Create essential documents and policies
  • Staff compliance training
  • Advice from industry experts

Trusted by customers

Canon  Logo Contact Hyatt Logo Contact Holiday Inn  Logo Contact Unicef  Logo Contact Veganz Logo Contact Burger King  Logo Contact First Group Logo Contact TOCA Social Logo Contact Arri Logo Contact K Line  Logo Contact

Get to know DataGuard

Simplify compliance

  • Comply with the EU Whistleblowing Directive
  • Centralised digital whistleblowing system
  • Fast implementation
  • Guidance from compliance experts
  • Transparent reporting

Trusted by customers

Canon  Logo Contact Hyatt Logo Contact Holiday Inn  Logo Contact Unicef  Logo Contact Veganz Logo Contact Burger King  Logo Contact First Group Logo Contact TOCA Social Logo Contact Arri Logo Contact K Line  Logo Contact

Let's talk