Different Types of Electronic Signatures: Choosing the Right Type for Your Needs

In the digital age, electronic signatures have become essential for streamlining business processes and securing transactions. However, the various types of electronic signatures can be confusing, and choosing the right one is crucial to balance security and usability. This guide will help you navigate the different levels of electronic signatures as defined by eIDAS (Electronic Identification, Authentication and Trust Services) regulation in the European Union.

What is an Electronic Signature?

According to eIDAS, an electronic signature is “data in electronic form which is attached to or logically associated with other data in electronic form and which is used by the signatory to sign.” To ensure compliance and security, it should ideally:

  • Adhere to ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) signature standards.
  • Utilize electronic certification.
  • Employ an identity verification system.
  • Provide evidence that the document has not been altered after signing.

The Three Types of Electronic Signatures

eIDAS categorizes electronic signatures into three types, each with varying levels of security and complexity:

  1. Simple Electronic Signatures
  2. Advanced Electronic Signatures (AdES)
  3. Qualified Electronic Signatures (QES)

1. Simple Electronic Signatures

Simple Electronic Signatures encompass all electronic signatures that do not meet the criteria for advanced or qualified signatures. They are the most commonly used due to their ease of use and minimal requirements.

Level of Security:

  • Low: No stringent identity verification.
  • Process: Can be as simple as clicking a button or typing a name.
  • Example: Signing on a delivery terminal or a scanned handwritten signature.

Enhancing Security: To increase the credibility of a simple electronic signature, additional authentication steps can be added, such as sending a verification code via SMS. Maintaining an audit trail, including elements like email addresses, IP addresses, and timestamps, further strengthens the legal standing of the document.

2. Advanced Electronic Signatures (AdES)

Advanced Electronic Signatures provide a higher level of security and are suitable for documents that involve significant legal or financial stakes.

Level of Security:

  • Medium to High: Must meet specific criteria set by eIDAS.
  • Criteria:
    • Uniquely linked to the signer.
    • Capable of identifying the signer.
    • Created using means under the signer’s sole control.
    • Detectable if the document is altered post-signature.

Verification Methods:

  • Identity Verification: Uploading and live verification of the signer’s ID.
  • Proof of Consent: Adding a checkbox or requiring a text to be copied before signing.

Intermediate Option: There is an advanced signature with a qualified certificate that involves face-to-face identity verification, providing a middle ground between advanced and qualified signatures.

3. Qualified Electronic Signatures (QES)

Qualified Electronic Signatures represent the highest level of security and legal standing, equivalent to a handwritten signature across the EU.

Level of Security:

  • Very High: Strict regulatory requirements.
  • Criteria:
    • Meets all advanced signature criteria.
    • Identity verification conducted face-to-face or remotely under specific conditions.
    • Signature key protected in a Qualified Electronic Signature Creation Device (QSCD).


  • Physical Meeting: The signer receives a token (smart card, USB key) and uses a personal PIN code for signing.
  • Remote Verification: Utilizing an HSM (Hardware Security Module) in the cloud with two-factor authentication following initial face-to-face identity verification.

Choosing the Right Signature Type

When deciding which type of electronic signature to use, consider the balance between ease of use and security. Here’s a simple methodology to guide your choice:

  1. Analyze the Regulatory and Legal Context: Identify constraints and risks for your specific case.
  2. Evaluate Other Risks and Opportunities: Consider company image, productivity impacts, and financial stakes.
  3. Determine the Appropriate Level of Security: Decide whether a simple or advanced level of security suffices, or if a qualified signature is necessary.

The choice of electronic signature type depends on your specific needs and the legal requirements of your transactions. While qualified signatures offer the highest security, they may be overkill for many situations. Simple and advanced signatures often provide sufficient security with greater ease of use.

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