An electronic signature, or e-signature, refers to data in electronic form, which is logically associated with other data in electronic form and which is used by the signatory to sign. This type of signature provides the same legal standing as a handwritten signature as long as it adheres to the requirements of the specific regulation it was created under (e.g., eIDAS in the European Union, NIST-DSS in the USA).
Electronic signatures are a legal concept distinct from digital signatures, a cryptographic mechanism often used to implement electronic signatures. While an electronic signature can be as simple as a name entered in an electronic document, digital signatures implement electronic signatures in a cryptographically protected way.
A digital signature is a mathematical scheme for verifying the authenticity of digital messages or documents. A valid digital signature, where the prerequisites are satisfied, gives a recipient very strong reason to believe that the message was created by a known sender (authentication) and that the message was not altered in transit (integrity).
Digital signatures are often used to implement electronic signatures, which includes any electronic data that carries the intent of a signature, but not all electronic signatures use digital signatures.
A digital signature scheme typically consists of three algorithms;
- A key generation algorithm that selects a private key uniformly at random from a set of possible private keys. The algorithm outputs the private key and a corresponding public key.
- A signing algorithm that, given a message and a private key, produces a signature.
- A signature verifying algorithm that, given the message, public key and signature, either accepts or rejects the message’s claim to authenticity.
Two main properties are required. First, the authenticity of a signature generated from a fixed message and fixed private key can be verified by using the corresponding public key. Secondly, it should be computationally infeasible to generate a valid signature for a party without knowing that party’s private key.
Public key certificate
The certificate includes information about the key, information about the identity of its owner (called the subject), and the digital signature of an entity that has verified the certificate’s contents (called the issuer).
A digital certificate certifies the ownership of a public key by the named subject of the certificate. This allows others (relying parties) to rely upon signatures or on assertions made about the private key that corresponds to the certified public key.
If the signature is valid, and the software examining the certificate trusts the issuer, then it can use that key to communicate securely with the certificate’s subject.
The most common format for public key certificates is defined by X.509. The format is further constrained by profiles defined for certain use cases, such as Public Key Infrastructure (X.509) as defined in RFC 5280.
Public key infrastructure
A public key infrastructure (PKI) is a set of roles, policies, hardware, software and procedures needed to create, manage, distribute, use, store and revoke digital certificates and manage public-key encryption.
In cryptography, a PKI is an arrangement that binds public keys with respective identities of entities (like people and organizations). The binding is established through a process of registration and issuance of certificates at and by a certificate authority (CA).
The PKI creates digital certificates, securely stores these certificates in a central repository and revokes them if needed.
The PKI role that assures valid and correct registration is called a registration authority (RA). An RA is responsible for accepting requests for digital certificates and authenticating the entity making the request.
Certificate provisioning protocols and management: EST, SCEP, CMC, CMP differences (a Cisco pdf guide)
An entity must be uniquely identifiable within each CA domain on the basis of information about that entity. A third-party validation authority (VA) can provide this entity information on behalf of the CA.
Certificate authority (CA)
In cryptography, a certificate authority or certification authority (CA) is an entity that issues digital certificates. A CA acts as a trusted third party—trusted both by the subject (owner) of the certificate and by the party relying upon the certificate.
Validation authority (VA)
In public key infrastructure, a validation authority (VA) is an entity that provides a service used to verify the validity of a digital certificate per the mechanisms described in the X.509 standard and RFC 5280 (page 69).
The dominant method used for this purpose is to host a certificate revocation list for download via the HTTP or LDAP protocols. To reduce the amount of network traffic required for certificate validation, the OCSP protocol may be used instead.