Eliminating the Pen…One Step at a Time: PAdES PDF Advanced Electronic Signature Standard Released for EU

Building on the delivery of the PDF format to the International Standards Organization (ISO) as ISO 32000-1, Adobe has been collaborating with standards bodies around the world to make it easier for companies, organizations and individuals to leverage the ubiquity of PDF to make business processes quicker, easier and more reliable.  However, the rush to go paperless has often fallen short of its true potential because signing a document oftentimes brings business critical processes crashing to a halt, requiring users to print out the previously electronic document in order to apply their nom de plume with an ancient writing implement.  Electronic signatures are obviously the solution, but there’s still the question of interoperability and the use of electronically signed documents within certain legal frameworks, such as the European Union (EU).  With last week’s announcement of an ETSI open standard for PDF digital signatures, that question can now be answered.

ETSI/ESI Technical Standard (TS) 102 778, better known as PAdES (pronounced with either a long or short a), documents how the digital signature format described in ISO 32000-1 meets the needs of the 1999 EU Signature Directive (see previous blog entry), and then goes on to describe how that format can be expanded to take advantage of certain capabilities such as long-term document validation, where digital signatures placed on documents today can be validated five, ten and even 50 years later.  (The standard can be downloaded free of charge from the ETSI website at http://pda.etsi.org/pda/.)

While the digital signature technology built into Adobe Acrobat, Reader and LiveCycle ES is described and included in ISO 32000-1, and in turn based on a broad spectrum of industry and international standards, there has been debate about how PDF digital signatures fit into the European Union’s concept of an Advanced Electronic Signature (AdES), as described in the Directive. PAdES ends those debates.

The long and the short of it? Organizations doing business in the European Union that may have hesitated about settling on PDF as a replacement for their paper processes nowmust consider reevaluating these solutions as viable and credible alternatives. Not only is PDF a ubiquitous and open document format, PDF digital signatures are non-proprietary, standardized, and now, when used properly, recognized as an Advanced Electronic Signature format, just like XAdES and CAdES. PDF digital signatures help make organizations more agile and flexible in the face of constantly changing business requirements. PDF digital signatures can be applied directly to the document itself and can even be displayed on the document just like wet ink signatures. Moreover, PDF digital signatures are technically integrated into the document itself, meaning you only need one software application to both view the document and validate the electronic signature.

Another bonus? You can use Acrobat and Reader 9 (as well as LiveCycle Digital Signatures ES) today to create and validate digital signatures that meet both the PAdES standard and the EU Directive. Click here to download a document that walks you through setting up Acrobat and Reader 9 to produce and consume PAdES Part 2-compatible digital signatures. A document covering LiveCycle Digital Signatures ES is forthcoming.

Adobe has collaborated with key players in the European standards field to develop a white paper that details the importance of developing open standards for interoperable electronic signatures and trust. The paper describes not only PAdES, but also other ETSI advanced electronic signature profiles such as CAdES and XAdES, and explains how they each fit into the discussion. The white paper, “The AdES Family of Standards: CAdES, XAdES and PAdES — Implementation Guidance for Using Electronic Signatures in the European Union,” can be downloaded here.

For more information about how digital signatures and PDF can lower costs and speed up workflows, check out the links below: