Against the backdrop of Covid-19, most workplaces have adapted by going hybrid or adopting WFH (Work From Home). However, even WFH cannot compensate for all the advantages of being physically present and sending documents from one party to another, especially when signatures are required for contracts/agreements to be binding.
This has forced many business owners to find an alternative solution. Naturally, technology has served up the solution in the form of digital signatures.
Digital signatures are the modern alternatives to the traditional method of signing documents with paper and pen. Digital signatures can provide evidence of origin, identity and status of electronic documents, transactions or digital messages. This type of signature has the same legal standing as a handwritten signature as long as it complies to the requirements of the specific regulation under which it was created.
The technology to create digital signatures has never been the problem. Business and governments just never had a pressing need to adopt it. Enter Covid-19 to change the picture. Digital signatures are now being recognised as a key tool to ensure workflow operations are smooth and efficient.
Infact, the Malaysian Government, as part of its MyDigital blueprint that is designed to push the nation into becoming an advanced digital economy is pushing for digital signatures to be adopted across the entire public sector by 2025. This will be a tremendous benefit to the Rakyat and businesses as one will no longer need to be physically present at any government department to conduct their business.
While that is an exciting future to behold, there is already a rising number of digital signature users in Malaysia. As a recent Top in Tech webinar on the topic, Replacing Wet Ink and Paper for Digitalisation, panellist, Sam Majid, Chief Technology & Innovation Officer, of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) pointed out that based on the MCMC Communication and Multimedia Facts and Figures booklet, in 2017 there were over 11 million users of digital signatures and each year the number rises. The latest figure in 2021, as of July, shows over 15.5 million users.
The Top in Tech webinar sought to help create awareness around the importance and use cases for digital signatures and had Edward Law, Chief Executive Officer of Securemetric Bhd and Fabian Bigar, Chief Executive Officer of MyDigital as panellist contributing to the disucssion.
Fabian, noting that Malaysia is promoting both its national Digital ID and digital signatures, explains that the national digital identity serves as a secure and trusted digital credential, as well as a platform for authentication, authorisation and consent.
“These are two separate initiatives but the national digital identity actually enables the latter. Based on our national MyDigital blueprint, the target is to have the entire government implementing digital signatures by 2025.”
Security of digital signatures underpinned by PKI
With the important role signatures play in business and personal affairs, there naturally were a lot of questions from the webinar participants around how secure digital signatures were.
The three panellists unanimously concurred that digital signature are very secure because the signer is required to have a digital ID that is issued by a licensed certificate authority in compliance with local laws, which in Malaysia's case is the Digital Signature Act 1997 (DSA 1997).
If the recipient is not able to open the document with the signer's public key, it means there is a problem with the document or the signature. This public key is part of a public key infrastructure or PKI which establishes a digital trust hierarchy in which a central authority securely verifies the identity of objects.
Edward of Securemetric, which has a very strong domain of expertise in PKI, including delivering the technology to customers in Singapore, describes PKI as “the foundation of trust for any digital economy because it is highly recognized as the most reliable IT security infrastructure that can achieve 4 very important trust pillars.”
He further explains that the first pillar is authenticity, which ensures only authorised users can perform the transactions. The privacy pillar safeguards users' data through strong cryptography. The third pillar which is integrity, makes sure that nobody can change any data without being detected which is also known as being tamper proof. “Finally, only PKI can achieve non-repudiation, which means no one can deny any transaction that has been authorised,” he elaborates.
PKI has been widely adopted globally. Some examples are Apple ID, EMV Card, MyKad, E-Passport, Connected Car, Smart metering IoT and many more.
Seeing opportunity in this space, Securemetric has innovated and come up with a cloud based digital signature platform called SigningCloud. With compliance to the Malaysian Digital Signature Act 1997 (DSA 1997) and E-commerce Act (ECA), SigningCloud is a PKI based digital signature solution that eases worries in terms of legality, security and efficiency for the document signing process.
“Our vision is to make SigningCloud become the universal digital signing platform and also be able to facilitate the business community to close cross border business deals both digitally and legally,” Edward added.
“Digitalisation is the best way to move forward. Adopting digital signatures today can bring many benefits to you both professionally and to your personal life,” Edward concluded.
“My takeaway is to understand the importance of implementing digital leadership. The tools, policies and the initiative by the government are already in place. The next step is for the public to embrace digital leadership to take it to the next level,” Sam said.
“Adopting digital signatures will allow you to save paper, mailing and filing costs. Second, it is able to enhance security measures with the PKI system set in place,” Fabian concluded.
Watch the replay of Top in Tech Episode 15 - Replacing Wet Ink & Paper for Digitalisation here.