Using digital signatures in a PDF File

By November 4, 2010

 



In this tutorial, learn how to use the new Sign & Certify panel for digital signature (sometimes called electronic signature), including the new Time Stamp Document tool.

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Using digital signatures in a PDF File

Lori KassubaNovember 4, 2010

There are many techniques you can use to electronically sign a PDF file, but each method varies in terms of reliability, longer-term validity, andapplication.

In this video tutorial we'll discuss the various ways you can electronically sign a document in Acrobat X and what has changed from Acrobat 9.If you have used previous versions of Acrobat, the first thing you will notice in Acrobat X is that the user interface has been completely re-organized to helpwith efficiency in your daily tasks.

Access to the digital signature tool can be found under the Tools > Sign & Certify panel.You can also customize your toolbar to easily add commonly used functions like the Sign Document command without having to use the sidebar panel.Simply select the Customize Quick Tools icon in the top menu.

Select Sign & Certify, and select the Sign Document icon.This command will now be placed in the top menu, and will appear every time you launch Acrobat.Let's start by discussing the most basic method for electronically signing a document that was introduced in Acrobat 9 - the Apply Ink Signature tool.This is a very simple tool that allows you to quickly add a signature to the document much like a fax signature.However, this type of signature will not lock out changes or provide notification if something has been changed in the document.So, it is not suitable for many applications.

To apply an Ink Signature simply click Apply Ink Signature tool, and use your mouse to add a freehand signature anywhere within the document.I'm going to go ahead and delete this Ink Signature and briefly touch on a new feature in Acrobat X - the Time Stamp Document tool.In previous versions of Acrobat, a user could apply a digital signature and then apply a timestamp to that identity-based signature.In Acrobat X, however, a user can apply just a timestamp to a document, allowing one to assert the existence and nature of a document at any given time.You'll need a timestamp server configured and it will not be visible on the document itself, but only in the side panel.This time stamping feature is the first of many changes that have been made to make Acrobat and Reader X compatible with the PDF Advanced Electronic SignatureStandard or PADES.The next tool we'll discuss in the Sign & Certify panel is the Sign Document tool, which allows you to digitally sign your PDF file.This can lock down the document and notify recipients that changes have been made after the signature is applied, resulting in higher trust in the document.The Place Signature tool, located below, is similar to the Sign Document tool and is useful if you would like to create a pre-existing location for alldocument signers to use.I'll go ahead and use the Sign Document tool to sign this particular document.

Acrobat prompts me to click and drag to draw the area for the signature.Next, I'm prompted to add my Digital ID to the signature area.

Within Acrobat you can create a self-signed digital ID or use digital IDs that are purchased from third party Certificate Authorities.I'll add a self-signed digital ID to this document for demonstration purposes.Self-signed digital IDs are convenient but they do not offer the recipient of your document any proof of the signer's identity; the signer is vouching for hisor her self.

However, this may be sufficient for personal use or small-to-medium size businesses exchanging documents in trusted relationships.On the other hand, digital IDs from third-party Certificate Authorities can validate your identity and provide better assurance as to your digitalsignature, which is necessary in many applications.Next, I'm prompted where to store the self-signed digital ID, in the new PKCS#12 file or the Windows Certificate store.Then, I'm prompted to enter my identity information.The next screen designates where the digital ID file will be stored (which you'll want to note for backup purposes)and to create a password for every time you sign with your digital ID.Once, I've completed the process for creating a self-signed digital ID the new ID will appear automatically in the Sign As pulldown.Now that I've created my new Digital ID, I can now sign this document.

I simply add my previously created password.I can also change the appearance of my digital signature.

For example, I could add a graphic that resembles the actual appearance of my signature.You can also choose to select the "Lock Document After Signing" checkbox which disallows future changes to the document.When I click the Sign button, I will be prompted to save the document with the new digital signature.There is also another set of nested items under the Sign & Certify panel when you click 'More Sign & Certify'.Here's where you'll find the Security Settings entry, the trusted identities settings, as well as tools to import and export security settings.The bottom tools in the Sign & Certify panel (which are grayed out because this file has already been signed) focus on "certifying" a PDF file.The intention of "certifying" a document means to prove the identity of where it came from, and then restricting what others can subsequently do to the document.For example, changing the content.

"Signing" on the other hand, means you agree to the content.We've taken a look at how to create a digital signature in Acrobat X, now let's take a look at what a recipient will see whenopening a PDF with a digital signature.The first thing you'll notice the first time you launch Acrobat or Reader X in this case, and open a digitally signed document, is the following dialog:This dialog announces the capability for Acrobat (and Reader X) to download certificates from the Adobe Approved Trust List.Certificates on this list have been verified to issue certificates of a higher assurance quality than most,and thus are trusted automatically in Acrobat and Reader.Many national governments are included in this list, as well as top certification authorities from around the world.This list is updated every 30 days, and we recommend you click OK to get the best experience.The next thing you may notice when opening a PDF with a digital signature, is the blue status bar at the top.This will notify you that the document has been signed and if the signatures are valid.Acrobat X provides many methods for electronically signing your PDF, each with varying levels of reliability and longer-term validity.The new user interface, Sign & Certify panel, and Customize Quick Tools also provide easy access to all the necessary tools you need when electronicallysigning your documents.


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Products covered:

Acrobat X ProAcrobat X StandardAcrobat X Suite

Related topics:

Sign documents electronically

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