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Understand the Basics of Digital Signatures in Adobe Acrobat X

Article Description

Digitally signing a document can be simple or complex, depending on how you approach it and what you expect from it. Adobe expert Brian Wood explores the generic process for digitally signing a PDF document using Acrobat X and what you can expect.

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Step 1: Create a Digital ID

Step 1: Create a Digital ID

In order to sign a PDF, you need to have a digital ID. If you don’t have one, Acrobat can create a “self-signed” ID for you that is stored on your machine (typically) forever, allowing you to use it any time you need to sign a PDF. You can also utilize either an existing solution within your company (check with IT) or use a third-party company like VeriSign® or Entrust® (among many others) to create and host your digital ID. In this article, I will show you how to create a self-signed digital ID, but in the process, you will also see how you could utilize a digital ID you get elsewhere.

  1. Open a PDF that you would like to sign and make sure that before you sign it, you are finished making changes to it.
  2. Choose View > Tools > Sign & Certify. In the Tools task pane, you will see the Sign & Certify options.
  3. There are two main ways to create a digital ID in Acrobat:

    • The first time you ever sign a document, you can create a digital ID in the process.
    • Create a digital ID before you decide to sign a document.

    In this article, we will save a little time by signing a document and setting up a digital ID in one step.

  4. Click Sign Document in the Tools task pane. A dialog box appears asking you to draw where you would like the signature to appear (see Figure 1).
  5. Figure 1 Click to draw a signature

  6. In the PDF, navigate to the page where you want to place the signature. Click and drag to draw a signature area (see Figure 2). Make sure that it is big enough to be readily visible and contain some information like your name, date, etc. because you can’t edit the size once you are finished. You’ll see what I mean shortly.
  7. Figure 2 Click and drag where the signature is to appear

  8. In the Add Digital ID dialog box, select A New Digital ID I Want to Create Now (see Figure 3). Click Next.
  9. Figure 3 Create a new digital ID

    If you already created a self-signed ID in Acrobat (we’ve gone through this process before), you could also just choose the file at this point by selecting A File from My Existing Digital ID From:. If you have a digital ID from a company such as VeriSign or other), you can choose A Roaming Digital ID Accessed Via a Server, and enter the URL of the digital ID that they give you. If you store your digital ID on a smart card or hardware token, connect it to your device to use it for signing documents, and choose A Device Connected to This Computer.

  10. Next, you need to decide where to store the digital ID. If you are on Windows, you will see a choice between New PKCS#12 Digital ID File and Windows Certificate Store. If you are on Mac OS, you won’t see these options, so you can skip this step. Make sure that New PKCS#12 Digital ID File is selected (Windows only). This allows you to create your digital ID as a .pfx or .p12 file that is saved on your hard drive. If you want to save the digital ID in your certificate store, which means it can be accessed by more than Acrobat, select Windows Certificate Store (see Figure 4). Click Next.
  11. Figure 4 Decide where to store the digital ID

  12. Enter your personal information in the next screen (things like full name, email address, etc.; the organizational unit and organization name is not required for the creation of your digital ID). Leave the Key Algorithm option at its default setting. Although 2048-bit RSA is more secure, 1024-bit RSA is more universally accepted. You could also choose what you want to use this digital ID for from the “Use Digital ID For menu. This allows you to sign documents, encrypt data, or both. Leave it at the default setting and click Next (see Figure 5).
  13. Figure 5 Enter your personal information

  14. Next, you need to decide where to store the actual digital ID file. If you leave it in the default folder, Acrobat can easily find it; however, you can choose a different location if you like because you can later tell Acrobat where it is when you go to sign a document. Enter a strong password and click Finish (see Figure 6).
  15. Figure 6 Decide where to store the digital ID

5. Step 2: Sign the Document | Next Section Previous Section