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Are Acrobat and Reader mature enough for digital signatures?

March 16, 2005

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heise online, the German magazine publishing house site (with an English-language section), offers "comprehensive, late-breaking IT sector news compiled from our various publications as well as an array of services."

A recent topic of interest to users of Adobe Acrobat and PDF asks (and answers) the question:

"Are Acrobat and Adobe Reader now mature enough for digital signatures?"

heise online notes:

"Digital signatures are not a new feature of PDF documents, Acrobat from Version 4 upwards offers them. In the extremely popular free Reader the feature has been available since Version 5.1. for documents prepared in a special fashion. But to allow documents to be signed electronically in a legally valid manner significantly higher criteria have to be met, which is why Adobe is currently having the complete Acrobat product as well as the Adobe Reader as standard viewing software for PDF documents certified in accordance with the Common Criteria by the German Federal Office for Information Security -- aka Bundesamts für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik (BSI) -- and recognized as an electronic signature client application in accordance with the German Signatures Act (SigG). "We expect the certification process to be completed by the middle of this year," the person responsible for the process at Adobe, Peter Körner, told heise online optimistically. Legally binding PDF signatures will initially be accomplished through a plug-in for Acrobat and the Reader, one that will piggyback on the OPENLiMiT SignCubes technology -- which the BSI has already certified in accordance with Common Criteria EAL 3+.

In the event of the certification process actually being completed by the middle of this year Adobe will in principle provide two options: Small, closed circles of users will use complete Acrobat products to have documents signed or to sign them themselves. Larger enterprises such as insurance companies or banks that cannot force their customers to purchase the all-encompassing Acrobat version will with the help of special Adobe software prepare documents in such a manner that it will be possible to sign them within the free Adobe Reader format. This preparation is done by the "LiveCycle Reader Extensions" server, the price of which depends on the volume of forms it is required to handle, the cheapest variant selling for 6,000 euros. So that companies in turn can sign reams of PDF documents electronically, a further Adobe software entitled LiveCycle Security Server is brought into play."

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