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Four Things to Consider for E-Signature Security in the Cloud

Striking the right balance to manage risk while ensuring maximum adoption

As the number of companies adopting cloud-based solutions continues to increase, security remains top of mind for vendors, companies and their customers. Organizations of all types and sizes are opting for cloud e-signatures for many reasons including speed-to-market, agility and a lower total cost of ownership. What organizations concerned with cloud security may not know is that all e-signature solutions are not created equal; enterprise-class cloud e-signatures enable security that is beyond simply passing a security audit or obtaining certification. There are four areas organizations should keep in mind when considering SaaS e-signatures.

1. Data Protection
Recent large-scale data breaches and general concern over personal privacy in digital spaces have understandably left many wondering if their customer data is secure. E-signature solution vendors have the responsibility to ensure data is safe, which includes protecting against privacy breaches or malware attacks and ensuring that data is encrypted in transit and at rest.

In order to demonstrate that the organization has adequate controls for data protection, including technology and processes, the e-signature service host should meet the strictest certification standards like Service Organization Controls (SOC) 2, which reflects that the organization has adequate controls for data protection, including technology and processes.

The good news is that cloud computing has matured over the years and now offers trustworthy infrastructure solutions with stringent security protocols in place. However, the infrastructure used not only needs to ensure high availability, but also that the data is securely backed up and is protected against unauthorized access. The e-signature provider should be leveraging a mature, trusted and certified cloud infrastructure solution such as Amazon Web Services rather than relying on in-house servers. Finally, when evaluating an e-signature vendor, it's important to ask what security protocols and controls are in place to ensure it is keeping data safe and secure.

2. Strong Identification, Authentication & Attribution
Security and user identification, authentication and attribution are important considerations for organizations wanting to embrace cloud-based technologies. Identification is the progress of verifying someone's identity either in person or remotely, whereas authentication is the process of verifying user credentials (most often user name and password) prior to giving access to a system - in this case, e-signing. Many financial services, insurance, healthcare and government organizations require advanced authentication methods to validate the identity of signers. Examples of identification can include email, SMS text passcode, Q&A and third-party authentication services. The e-signature solution should offer a variety of ways to authenticate signers depending on:

  • The legal and compliance risk
  • The likelihood of fraud
  • The value of the process being automated

3. Tamper-Evident E-Signatures
With tamper-evident controls, all parties involved in a transaction can trust the integrity of a signed document. If the document has been adjusted even slightly, it will invalidate any signatures and alert signers to the fact that it has been tampered with.

In order to ensure these controls are properly in place, digital signature technology should be applied at each signature location, creating a digital fingerprint of the document (called a hash) that can be used at any point to verify the integrity of the electronic record. This verification should take place in the document rather than sending the use to the vendor's website to validate the signature. Since e-signatures are only as good as the security that protects them, it's important that any attempt to tamper with any part of the document, for example adding or deleting words or replacing pages, should be visible. An enterprise-class e-signature solution should demonstrate this tampering by invalidating all the signature areas within the document.

4. Detailed Evidence Through an Embedded Audit Trail
The hashing of information into the document not only secures a document but it also creates a reliable and consistent audit trail of who signed, in what order, at what time and in what locations. Further, using e-signatures built on digital signature technology, the audit trail is securely embedded into the document. That means that all electronic signatures, the time stamping and the audit trails would be embedded directly within the document and not stored separately in the cloud or ‘logically' associated in a vault or proprietary database.

Organizations should have access to this data without having to depend on a vendor or its systems for access. This type of vendor independence is a concern for many organizations looking at cloud applications and gives users peace of mind that their valuable business records will remain in their control for as long as their retention policies require. An embedded audit trail means your e-signed records will work seamlessly with your content management systems or your chosen system of record.

When it comes to electronic signatures, taking a multi-pronged approach will ensure the highest level of security for documents and data that pass through a cloud e-signature solution. At the same time, it's important to choose an enterprise-class e-signature solution that offers additional security measures like embedding all data associated with the transaction into the document, reliably reproducing that data as evidence in the event of a dispute and enabling the reduction of risk around non-compliance. Ultimately, this multilayer approach to cloud e-signature security will foster customer confidence and protect an organization's reputation.

As organizations ponder these security features and requirements, it is highly recommended that they apply a level of controls and safeguards comparable to the paper process. Some organizations have a tendency to believe that putting a process online requires stricter security, however security and usability can at times be opposing forces. Organizations must strike the right balance so to manage risk while ensuring maximum adoption.

More Stories By Tommy Petrogiannis

Tommy Petrogiannis is CEO & Co-Founder of Silanis. As President and CEO, he is responsible for setting the company strategy and vision, building corporate culture and ensuring the entire team is working towards the corporate goal of delivering the ‘best possible customer experience’.

Within Silanis, Tommy has inspired a deeply-rooted culture of charitable giving and community involvement, supporting causes proposed by employees as well as those to which the company has a longstanding commitment. These have included the Royal Victoria Hospital’s Tiny Survivors Program, Canderel Cancer Run, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Kids Code Program and others.

Tommy’s two decades of IT experience include positions at Compaq and Matrox Electronics.

He holds a BS in engineering from Concordia University.

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