Digital signatures play a crucial role in verifying the authenticity of any document shared online. If a document contains the digital signature of the authorized signatory, the receiver knows that the document is genuine.
But how do you verify the signatory? This is where a digital signature certificate (DSC) becomes necessary. In India, it holds high importance as you can use it for online auctions, e-filing income tax returns (ITR), signing documents like PDFs, and more.
It is admissible in a court of law as evidence and accepted by government agencies. In fact, it is compulsory for those who need to get their accounts audited for ITR filing and many others. Also, DSC does away with the need to send hard copies.
This article covers all the major details you must know about DSC before using it.
What Is Digital Signature Certificate?
A digital signature certificate (DSC) is a key that is affixed to documents to certify and validate the identity of an individual or entity signing them. It contains the DSC applicant’s name, country, pin code, email address, name of the certifying authority, and date of DSC issuance. It is the secure digital equivalent of physical certificates and is issued by designated certifying authorities.
It is useful in accessing services or data that require you to prove your identity. You can use DSC certificate to sign documents digitally and validate online transactions.
Classes/ Types of Digital Signature Certificates
There are three types of digital signature certificates (DSCs) that can be issued by certifying authorities (CAs) depending on the type of applicant and the requirement. The three types of digital signature certificates are as follows:
Class 1 certificates:
Individual/ private subscribers apply for this class of certificate. They serve as confirmation that the database of the certifying authority includes the applicant’s name and email contact details.
Class 2 certificates:
These certificates have been replaced by Class 3 certificates. They were discontinued by the Controller of Certifying Authority on Jan 1, 2021. However, all the class 2 certificates purchased earlier will continue to be active and functional.
They were issued to the signatory authorities/ director of companies for e-filing with the Registrar of Companies (ROC). It is must for those who have to sign documents manually while filing returns with the ROC.
Class 3 certificates:
Vendors who are planning to participate in online tenders should apply for this type of certificate. The purpose of this certificate is to allow trusted parties to participate/ bid in online tenders and e-auctions anywhere in India.
How to Use Digital Signature Certificate Across Different Industries?
You can use DSC certificate for signing documents where proof of identity and integrity is required. Some of the sectors where it is used include:
The government uses DSC for processing tax returns, managing legal documents, verifying business-to-government transactions, and more.
- Financial Services
Banks provide DSC as an additional option to ensure security during online transactions. You can use DSC to encrypt a highly confidential document.
The industry uses DSC signature for streamlining online processes in quality assurance (QA), sales, etc.
Advocates and other legal professionals can file important documents related to court proceedings via an online portal, making DSC crucial for authentication.
Benefits of Digital Signature Certificate
Some of the major benefits of digital signature certificates online are:
- Saves time and money
By replacing the hard copy of documents with digital PDF files, you can avoid the process of scanning the signed document for sharing it via email. Also, you do not have to physically go to the location to authorize or conduct a business if you have DSC.
- Data Integrity
Data in the documents that are signed digitally remains secure as it cannot be edited or altered once the signing process is over. DSCs enable the government and other agencies to cross-check and verify transactions.
It authenticates the personal information of the individual conducting business. Receivers can take relevant action based on digitally signed documents, as they know that the signer is not a fraud.
- Legally Compliant
IT Act, 2000 recognizes DSC as a statutory requirement for a valid digital signature. DSCs can be issued, suspended, or revoked by licensed certifying authorities (CAs) under the Controller of Certificate Authority, Ministry of Information Technology.
- Environment Friendly
By using digital signatures and DSC, you ensure the validity of digital documents and avoid the extra work of printing hardcopies. It is quite an eco-friendly move.
How to Get Digital Signature Certificate?
The office of Controller of Certifying Authorities (CCA) enables Certifying Authorities (CAs) to issue DSCs to end-entities. You can access the list of licensed CAs and categories of certificates they offer at the government portal for certifying authorities. Other guidelines are also available on the website.
Based on the information, you can choose any one of the licensed CAs. The pricing for DSCs varies with the choice of CA. You can apply for digital signature certificate online or offline. Usually, it takes two days for approval. Once you get DSC, download it into the hard token or install it on your laptop/ PC.
- Online method
Visit the website of the Registered CA and navigate to the DSC section. Fill out the application form by choosing the type of DSC you want. You can save the form to your device and mail it to the LRA’s (Local Registering Authority) office along with a demand draft (DD) or cheque in the name of the LRA.
- Offline method
Make an appointment with the CA. Go to the office with documents like a PAN card and Aadhar card. Fill out the forms and pay the fees as per CA’s instructions.
Instead of attested hard copies of supporting documents, you may even opt for Aadhar eKYC or banking eKYC based verification. For this, you must be an Aadhar holder, or your bank must have tie-ups with CAs for getting eKYC.
How to Use Digital Signature Certificate for Signing a Document?
A digital signature certificate (DSC) is necessary for businesses to digitally sign documents. The steps to sign any PDF document are:
- Install Esigner on your device
You can download Document Signer for Windows/ Mac/ Linux operating systems from the government portal. If you get stuck during installation, you can view the detailed instructions on the website.
- Install Java
Next, you can download Java from the official website. Then, follow the installation instructions and set the path (My Computer > This PC > Properties > Advanced System Settings > Environment Variable)
- Configure email
Sign up to your Google account. Change Allow less secure apps radio button to ON.
- Sign document
Choose the PDF file where you want to use DSC signature and the folder where you wish to save the files after signing. Now, select your DSC and the manner of signing as DSC. Choose a signing template and click Start Signing Now. Enter the DSC password and complete the signing process.
- Email signed documents
In the output folder that saves the signed document, open the ‘signingresults.xlsx’ file. Fill in the necessary details and click on ‘Start Email.’ All the recipients in the .xlsx file will receive the signed documents in their email. Failure errors are shown in the ‘Activity Log’ tab.
Digital Signature vs. Digital Certificate: What’s the Difference
While both provide security through data protection, the two terms are different and must not be confused with each other.
|Parameter||Digital Signature||Digital Certificate|
|Meaning||Digital equivalent of a handwritten signature||The digital key for identification of the sender|
|Purpose||Validate sent data||Validate sender’s identity|
|How to obtain||Online security agency or issuing authority||Certificate Authority after a background check|
|Standard||Digital Signature Standard (DSS)||Public-key cryptography standards (PKCS, X.509 Standard Format)|
|Processes||Encryption at the sender’s end & decryption at receiver’s end||Key generation, registration, verification, and creation by CA|
|Use cases||Financial transactions, software distribution, loan applications, wire transfer requests||Internet of Things, email encryption, code signing, enterprise mobility management|
Top Certifying Authorities or Digital Signature Service Providers
Under Section 24 of the Indian IT-Act 2000, the Controller of Certifying Authorities (CCA) has granted a license to the following for issuance of DSC:
- (n) Code Solutions CA
- Pantasign CA
- IDSign CA
- How to get free digital signature certificate?
You can use software like HelloSign, DocuSign, and SmallPdf to get a free digital signature certificate.
- What is digital signature certificate meaning?
A digital signature certificate is an electronic document containing a key that is associated with the identity of an individual/ organization. It is issued by a Certificate Authority (CA) and enables verification of the digitally signing authority's identity.
- How to apply for a digital signature certificate?
Log in to the website of the certifying authority (CA), choose the entity (individual/ organization) and fill DSC Application form. You must have your recent photograph, Photo ID, and Address proof too.
An attesting officer must attest the supporting documents with a sign and seal. Make the payment via cheque/DD to the local registration authority for further processing.