Web-based service will provide binding signature

Recent legislation has made electronic signatures legally binding basically around the globe, according to Blake Sutherland.

Sutherland, product manager of Ottawa-based Entrust.net, a subsidiary of Entrust Technologies, said there has been a lot of excitement over the signature authentication legislation.

“This has made it so that things can be done that couldn’t be done before. In the past if you were negotiating a mortgage on-line, there would be a point when you would have to print it and sign, initial, and courier it,” he said. “Now a digital signature is legally binding. It allows that process to be entirely Web-based.”

Entrust is offering a signature identification service that will allow organizations to provide Web-based services to authenticate users based on digital certificates, provide permanent digitally-signed records of transactions and protect confidential data on the Web server.

Entrust has been selling these capabilities for a long time, but now they are available as a packaged service, Sutherland said.

“This gives a company operational freedom. We manage the infrastructure, so they can focus their efforts on the service they are providing. Entrust is recognized as (an) expert in the security field. There is lower risk. Instead of buying the product and hardware and implementing all of it, companies are looking at a regular recurring service they would pay for every year.”

The service would set up digital certificates to verify the signature on any given document. Sutherland noted that digital signatures are coded right into the document, meaning that if the document is changed after the signature had been applied the signature would no longer be verifiable.

“A digital signature will provide some proof of what was signed because it is unique to what is being signed.”

He noted this service will also allow organizations to deploy digital signatures without managing or operating their own PKI (public key infrastructure).

“Entrust customers, when they enable the service, will be installing some server-side components that will communicate with the service,” Sutterland said, adding this is the only adjustment companies have to make.

Bruno Tramontozzi, director of business development for Boston-based Anagraph Corp., said he decided to use this service primarily because of the time to market it allowed.

“They were able to provide a product that fit our needs, practically out of the box. That definitely helped in speed to market,” Tramontozzi said.

He noted that Entrust’s expertise in the field of PKI was something his company felt confident in and said it helps them sell to their clients.

Tramontozzi also noted the managed service meant there was a lower up-front cost, as there were no hardware upgrades.

“The prices are not cheap, but they are not unreasonable for what they are offering,” he said.

He added they heard about Entrust through market research when they started looking for a digital signature product. “Originally we considered bringing everything in-house, hosting everything ourselves. Then we came across Entrust. It was not the only company offering a managed service, but theirs was the best that we saw.”

He expects to completely rollout the service later this month.

JetForm, an Ottawa-based software solutions provider, has joined forces with Entrust. Dave Welch, vice-president and general manager of JetForm, said their forms business unit has a large demand for digital signatures.

Sydney Sloan, director of marketing at JetForm, said is has been partners with Entrust since 1997.

“We have the same customer base. We are integrated with this product,” she said. “We see it as an application enabler and something that could be offered to the client. It’s great to have a signature, but you have to have something to put it on.”

She is looking forward to having the ability to call up the service from anywhere and receive signatures and certification immediately.

“This is a good way for people to start testing these kinds of services. There is a lower cost of entry liability,” Sloan said. “For a medium size organization this is a viable alternative to setting up an in-house solution.”

JetForm’s clients have been wanting to do more Web-based transactions, but security has always been a big issue, according to Sloan. “Whether it’s sensitivity of information or whether they wanted to make sure that their information could not be tampered with…or to be able to validate a signature and make it legally binding.”

Entrust’s signature identification service is priced at US$50,000 per year.

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