Understand the Basics of Digital Signatures
When I started working with PDFs, I remember wanting to send the file to someone and ensuring that the document didn’t change and that content couldn’t be removed, among other things. So I started looking into the different security features that can be added to a PDF in Acrobat. There seemed to be about a billion at first glance. Actually, generally, security on a PDF can be broken down into a few options found within Acrobat X:
- Password security (the simplest method)
- Digitally signing a document
- Certifying a document
- Using Adobe LiveCycle Rights Management
Password security is the security method most of us use when we want to ensure that content can’t be copied from our PDF (among other things). Certifying a document via encryption indicates that you approve of the contents of the PDF, and only the first person to sign the document can certify it (usually the initiator). When you certify the document, you can also specify what changes can be made to the document in order for it to remain certified.
Digitally signing a document can be simple or complex, depending on how you approach it and what you expect from it. In a PDF, most digital signatures are referred to as approval signatures, because it’s used to identify the person signing it. For most of us individuals and small business owners, it can be used not as an iron-clad legal guarantee, but as a way to see if something changed in the document.
In this article, I explore the generic process for digitally signing a document using Acrobat X and what you can expect. Please know going into this article that I am not going to cover in-depth options such as Certificate Authorities or using Adobe Certified Document Services. There is a lot of great information out there related to more “advanced” methods of signing and certifying signatures. Through the course of the article, I will mention these aspects and point to resources that I have found to be helpful.
So let’s get started signing our first document. Here’s a list of topics we’ll cover:
- Why you might want a digital signature
- How a digital signature process works
- Create a digital ID
- Sign a document
- Discuss verifying a signature