Where oh where are PDF digital signatures from?

December 01, 2017

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Finally - after 41 years, from Diffie and Hellman's concept in 1976 through to real-life production usage in 2017, digital signatures are now in regular use: yes, penned signatures, wax seals and paper itself are finally taking a back-seat. And a big driver in making this a success is PDF.

But we need to look into the history of digital signatures and PDF technology and where they overlapped.

Back to the 70's

  • 1976 - Diffie and Hellman theorized the concept of a digital signature which could help validate digital documents.
  • 1977 - Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman created the first digital signature algorithm, known as the RSA algorithm, which was used to produce an early version of what we know today as the digital signature.
  • 1994 - The US National Security Agency (NSA) introduced the Digital Signature Standards (DSS), which looked to create standards for authenticating electronic documents. The standards were so forward focused and in-depth that the US Government made the Digital Signature Standards the standards for electronic document authentication across the country of America.
  • 1999 to 2000 - Digital signatures became part of PDF technology through the ability to embed them into documents - Using Digital Signatures with PDF.
  • 2000 - The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN Act) was a federal law passed in the US to ensure that electronic contracts were seen as legally valid and of the same integrity as paper contracts.
  • 2008 - ISO 32000-1:2008 was introduced by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) which created the standards around PDF technology, focused on developers of this technology. Digital signatures played a big part in these standards which made it possible to push PDF technology as a must-have corporate document management system.
  • 2009 - One year later PDF Advanced Electronic Signatures (PAdES) was introduced within European. These were a set of restrictions and extensions to PDF and ISO 32000-1 making it suitable for advanced electronic signature.
  • 2014 - eIDAS, or electronic Identification, Authentication and Trust Services, introduced regulations within the EU to provide a safe process for organizations to conduct business electronically.

And now...

Thank you, Mr. Diffie and Mr. Hellman!

Through these standards, electronic PDF contracts are now held to the same legal standing as paper contracts, making doing business electronically more viable to organizations across the world. You can bet that all us PDF lovers are rapt that using digital or electronic signatures in PDFs is pretty much standard in apps now. After all, it's a big part of doing business in the global community that organizations have created.

So, it's amazing hey? After 41 years you can finally bring out the lighter, melt the ye olde signature wax and find some other things to do with that Scrapbook Paper!

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