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Electronic Forms and Digital Signatures


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Introduction

Data processed into useful information is the lifeblood of any organisation. Traditionally the initial point of capture was the paper form. However few organisations can afford the cost of re-keying data. Today's businesses, government agencies, and NGOs wish to capture quality data at the earliest point possible, in a format that can be processed electronically. The way to achieve this is with e-forms.

Benefits

e-Forms enable:

# Data validation at the first point of capture
# Consistent data structure and format
# Fast electronic processing
# Built-in logic / workflow to reflect business rules (no more forms lost in the system!)
# Built-in user support providing for higher quality and greater user acceptance

but...

Often the advantages of electronic forms are lost due to the need to provide proof of origin, or indicate approval / consent with a physical signature. In such cases the form is printed out, signed and sent physically around the organisation, and is then re-keyed.

Sorted!

By replacing the physical signature with a digital signature the entire process can be kept electronic. The digital signature provides both evidence of origin, and indicates approval / consent even better than a physical signature. A digital signatures from an x509 v3 digital certificates such as provided by Diginus can provide certainty of origin due to the difficulty of forging such a signature.

And there is a bonus: the signature can be used to ensure the submitted data has not been tampered with in transit (which a physical signature cannot). Encryption can also be applied to make the process ultra confidential.

In short electronic forms when liberated by the use of digital signatures provide data;

# Confidentiality - Only the intended recipient can read the form.
# Data Integrity - Certainty that the data on the form was not altered since signing.
# Authentication - The person signing is who they claim to be.
# Non-Repudiation - Prevents denial from involvement in an electronic transaction.

And of course the whole process remains electronic for efficient onward processing.

Ease of Implementation

A large number of 'off the shelf' eforms products support digital signatures and for instance both TopLevel Forms and Adobe have inbuilt digital signature support. Many companies (incl Diginus) also develop digitally signed electronic forms solutions, which make e-forms easy to implement.

Significant Cost Savings

The same digital certificate used for signing e-forms also signs and encrypts email and authenticates to secure resources such as intranet sites and VPNs, etc. As a result Total Cost of Ownership is low, in fact much lower than tackling each requirement separately in the traditional manner. These savings plus those from migrating from physical to e-forms result in significant cost savings overall.

Summary

Digital certificates liberate the use of electronic forms, including when physical signatures would normally be required. The full benefits of electronic forms include;

# Vastly improved speed of transactions
# Improved quality of data
# Reduction in overall cost
# Greater end user acceptance through the re-use of a single identity credential

Plus...

# Data confidentiality
# Integrity
# Authentication
# Non-repudiation



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Jonathan Gay BA(hons) CISA MBCS, is an IS Security professional specialising in identity management and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) related matters. Jonathan works for Diginus Ltd the e-identity solutions company.

You can contact Jonathan via the Diginus Ltd web site www.diginus.com



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