Digital Signature Types: The 3 Tools You Need to Know (2023)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

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Digital Signature Types

Imagine every email you send was like a sealed envelope. A digital signature is that seal, the promise that what’s inside hasn’t been tampered with. But unlike regular seals, digital signatures come in a variety of types. Curious to discover more? Stick with us as we dive into the world of digital signature types!


Digital signature types refer to the different methods used to verify the authenticity and integrity of electronic messages or documents, ensuring they haven’t been tampered with during transmission.

Type 1 – Simple Electronic Signatures (SES): The basic digital equivalent of your handwritten signature, SES is the simplest type, used for lower-risk transactions. Think of it as giving a casual nod of agreement in the digital world.

Type 2 – Advanced Electronic Signatures (AES): An AES is like a handshake agreement but in the digital sphere. More secure than SES, it identifies the signatory and detects any changes made after signing, used for high-stake transactions or sensitive documents.

Type 3 – Qualified Electronic Signatures (QES): The most secure type, a QES is like a legally notarized document. Validated by trusted service providers, it’s legally equivalent to a handwritten signature in many jurisdictions and used for high-security transactions.

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Digital Signature Types In-depth

Simple Electronic Signatures (SES)

Imagine you’re at a coffee shop with a friend, and she suggests an impromptu road trip. Without a moment’s hesitation, you give a quick nod. That’s an informal agreement between you two, like a verbal handshake. Now, let’s transport this scenario into the digital realm. Your quick nod transforms into a Simple Electronic Signature (SES).

You might be thinking, “How can a nod turn digital?” Well, when you reply to your friend’s email with a “Sure, let’s hit the road!” – that’s the SES. Even clicking on an “I Agree” button on a website, typing your name at the end of an email, or signing a digital pad at a retail store checkout – all these are real-life examples of SES.

But here’s the catch. While SES is fast and convenient, it’s also like our coffee shop scenario – informal and not the most secure. Anyone could hypothetically click on that “I Agree” button or type in your name, right? So while it’s perfectly fine for daily routine activities, when we start dealing with more high-stakes stuff, like signing a house lease or a business contract, we need a more secure system.

However, don’t write off SES just yet! Despite its simplicity, it’s invaluable in the digital world for its ease of use. It keeps things moving swiftly, cutting the red tape and making life a bit easier. Remember, even a casual nod can set an exciting road trip into motion!

In the end, Simple Electronic Signatures serve as a testament to how far we’ve come in the digital age. It has taken the centuries-old practice of inking our names on paper and transformed it into a simple click or typed name.

But remember, this is just the first step, the simplest form of digital signatures. If the digital world was a beach, then the SES would be like dipping your toes in the water. Up ahead lies the deep sea of Advanced and Qualified Electronic Signatures. So, are you ready to dive deeper?

Advanced Electronic Signatures (AES)

Picture this: You’re about to seal a deal on a pre-owned car. Before you hand over your hard-earned cash, you’ll want to be certain that the car is genuinely what the seller claims. You check the VIN number, maybe even get a trusted mechanic to take a look under the hood. You need proof that the seller is legitimate and the car hasn’t been tampered with. This need for proof translates in the digital realm into what we call an Advanced Electronic Signature (AES).

An AES is more sophisticated than the Simple Electronic Signature (SES) we talked about earlier. Just like verifying the VIN and the car’s condition provides more security, an AES offers enhanced layers of trust and assurance in the digital landscape.

So, how does it do that? An AES, by its very design, is linked uniquely to the signatory. It’s like a digital ID card, carrying information that ties the signature directly to the individual. But it doesn’t stop there. The AES is created in such a way that if any data linked to it is changed after the signing process, it will immediately invalidate the signature. Just like how a changed VIN would raise a red flag about a car’s authenticity, alterations to a document signed with an AES are immediately apparent.

You might wonder where you would use such a signature. Think about situations where there’s more at stake than simply clicking “I Agree” to a set of terms and conditions. Submitting an online tax return, signing a contract for a new job, or validating a work document – these are the scenarios where an AES shines.

However, while the AES offers more security than an SES, it’s not the highest level of security available. Imagine if, on top of checking the VIN and the car’s condition, you also had a trusted authority vouching for the seller’s reputation. That’s even more secure, right? Well, in the world of digital signatures, that’s the realm of the Qualified Electronic Signature, the most secure form available.

An AES is a big step up from an SES in terms of security, and for many purposes, it’s more than enough. It’s like the difference between splashing around in the shallow end of the pool and swimming laps in the deeper end. But if you’re ready to dive into the deepest part of the pool, stay with us as we explore the world of Qualified Electronic Signatures.

Qualified Electronic Signatures (QES)

Let’s imagine you’re at a notary’s office, signing the final papers for your new home. It’s a monumental moment. But why do you need the notary? They’re there to certify that it’s really you signing the documents and that everything is legal and above board. A QES serves a similar purpose in the digital world – it’s the digital notary, ensuring the utmost security and trustworthiness for your digital transactions.

A QES, like a notarized document, is backed by an independent, trusted third party known as a Certification Service Provider (CSP). The CSP verifies the signatory’s identity before issuing a digital certificate, similar to how a notary verifies your identity before stamping the document. If someone tries to pull a fast one by changing a word here or a clause there after you’ve signed, a QES, just like a notary, won’t stand for it. The signature becomes invalid, alerting everyone to the tampering attempt.

But where do we typically see QES in action? Well, consider high-stakes transactions, such as signing a mortgage agreement, endorsing a legal document, or approving a multi-million dollar corporate deal. In these scenarios, a QES is the equivalent of that notary’s stamp – a gold-standard security seal that assures everyone involved that you are indeed the signatory and the document is untouched post-signing.

A QES is not just a leap ahead in the security department compared to SES and AES. It’s a quantum leap. It’s a comprehensive, secure solution for electronic signing. Using a QES is like going from riding a bicycle to flying a jet. The speed and convenience might be similar to the other two types, but when it comes to security and legal robustness, a QES soars above.

This journey from SES to QES is like learning to swim. We’ve splashed in the shallows, swam in the deep, and now, we’ve dived into the profound depths of the ocean. The Qualified Electronic Signature is the treasure we find at the bottom – the pinnacle of trust and authenticity in our digital world. Whether you’re ‘swimming’ at the surface or diving deep, understanding these levels of digital signatures helps us navigate this vast ocean safely and securely.


Embarking on this journey from Simple Electronic Signatures (SES) through to Advanced Electronic Signatures (AES), and finally to Qualified Electronic Signatures (QES), we’ve discovered that the digital world has its unique language of trust. Just as in the physical world, where a nod, a handshake, or a notary’s stamp have different levels of commitment and security, so too does the digital world with its varying types of electronic signatures. As we continue to navigate this digital age, understanding these signatures is becoming increasingly important, adding another layer of savvy to our online interactions.

How to stay safe online:

  • Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
  • Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
  • Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.

Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

How secure are Simple Electronic Signatures (SES)?

Simple Electronic Signatures (SES) are the most basic level of digital signatures and, as such, provide the lowest level of security. They’re best suited for everyday, low-risk transactions, like acknowledging receipt of an email. For transactions that need more security, Advanced Electronic Signatures (AES) or Qualified Electronic Signatures (QES) are recommended.

What kind of transactions should use a Qualified Electronic Signature (QES)?

QES are typically used for high-stake or legally significant transactions. These could include signing a mortgage agreement, endorsing a legal document, or approving a major corporate deal. They provide the highest level of security and are backed by a trusted Certification Service Provider (CSP).

Are all digital signatures legally binding?

The legal standing of digital signatures can vary depending on the type of signature and the laws of the jurisdiction. However, as a general rule, Qualified Electronic Signatures (QES) are considered legally equivalent to handwritten signatures in many parts of the world. As always, for specific legal advice, it’s best to consult with a legal professional.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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