Digital Signature Basics: Free digital signatures vs paid digital signatures

Is it worthwhile to buy a digital signature solution, or are free digital signatures fit for the job? We look at both options.

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There are a number of free digital signatures online which offer a basic solution. We show you what you can get in a paid digital signature that you can’t get in a free version and what you are really giving these free providers:

What is the difference between free and paid digital signatures?

When it comes to solutions for free digital signatures, these can be online versions or downloaded apps on a computer. A free version will have a stripped-down signature solution offering a scribble on a document. This offers little or no assurance of the signer’s identity. You can usually choose a signature style, size and font, or upload an image of a signature, upload a document and insert the signature into the appropriate space. However, in many free versions, there can be a watermark on the inserted signature with the brand logo of the provider, which can only be removed if it’s upgraded to the premium version.

On the other hand, most paid digital signature solutions offer security and the knowledge that a document is verified and legally binding. The signer’s identity is validated through the use of a verified electronic identity (eID) or by other technologies including identity document scanning. The signed document is then digitally signed, timestamped and verified. Other important features are handling multiple documents in one signing, as well as being able to handle multiple people signing the document.

How secure are free digital signatures?

Security is always the main concern when it comes to signing a document or downloading a free application. Does the solution comply with GDPR? Does it protect the documents and data? Are electronically signed documents secured against tampering with seals, so their validity can be preserved for decades to come?

It is important to remember that the hard part of a digital signature is not technical, but compliance and legal. A signature may be used to sign contracts with high values, and there must not be any doubt that the signature solution has shown the correct document to the correct user for signing. Will the signature solution hold up to a legal investigation, in case of a conflict?

Also, how is the signature validated? And is it possible to validate the signature far into the future, which is important in some cases?

When a digital signature says it is free, it might not really be free

Check if the free digital signature is actually free, or simply a trial for a paid version. If it is a free trial, it will usually expire within seven days or up to a month and once expired, you will be charged the full subscription amount depending on the terms and conditions. This can usually catch people off guard as they tend to forget about their trial and the expiry date, so they are left to pay for the full version in the end.

If it is not a free trial and is indeed a free solution, the provider is most likely looking for data, just like any other free application. If you agree to the terms and conditions on data usage upon signing up, the provider is allowed to take and even resell your data to other companies. The terms and conditions are of utmost importance.

Can you verify identities with a free digital signature?

One of the biggest differences between a free digital signature and a paid version is the lack of verification of the user’s identity in the free solution.

Most free solutions have no user authentication, meaning an end-user can sign up using a fake name and email and sign documents. While there are unique paid signature solutions such as Signicat Sign which allow users to sign through an eID (verified electronic identity) to securely verify the identity of the person signing. With this verified digital signature, there’s no need to meet face-to-face to know who is signing. The digital signature encryption automatically ensures that the signature is secure and authentic. The document is secure as it is uniquely linked to the signer and can identify them, so there is the assurance that the document signed is legally binding, has not been altered and has the right person signing it.

Want to learn more? Download the eGuide to discover how integrated identity verification in electronic signatures work, and how you can use them to digitalize paper-based processes or leverage the technology to develop new services. 

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