An electronic (digital) signature is essentially the equivalent of a hand-written signature, with data in electronic form being attached to other electronic subject data (Invoice, Payment slip, Contract, etc.) as a means of authentication.
An electronic seal ensures origin and integrity of data.
Both electronic (digital) signatures and electronic seals can be supported technically by digital signatures which are data appended to, or a cryptographic transformation of a data unit that allows a recipient of the data unit to prove the source and integrity of the data unit and protect against forgery e.g. by the recipient.
With the Regulation (EU) No 910/2014 on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market and repealing Directive 1999/93/EC, electronic signatures and electronic seals have legal effect. The regulation applies since 1 July 2016.
ETSI activity on digital signatures is coordinated by technical committee Electronic Signatures and Infrastructures (ESI).
ETSI ESI is the committee dealing with digital signatures (signature format, certificates), trust service providers and ancillary services (Registered email, Registered e-delivery, Time-Stamping, Long-term data preservation).
Their activity covers signature creation and verification based on CAdES (CMS digital signatures), XAdES (XML digital Signatures), PAdES (PDF digital Signatures), and ASiC (Associated Signature Container). ESI also deals with cryptographic suites recommendations, trust service providers supporting signatures (e.g. certification authorities, time-stamping authorities) and/or providing remote signature creation or validation functions, trust application providers (e.g. registered e-delivery providers, Registered Emails (REM) providers, Information preservation providers), and Trust-service Status List (TSL). TSL, and its EU specific version called Trusted Lists, is defined to enhance the confidence of parties relying on certificates or other services related to digital signatures since they have access to information that will allow them to know whether a given Trust Service Provider was operating under the approval of any recognized scheme at the time of providing their services and of any dependent transaction that took place.
In order to prove interoperability of implementations and enhance standards robustness, ETSI is running regular CAdES/XAdES/PAdES PlugtestsTM events. ETSI also organizes Plugtests events on signature validation.
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