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Is there an inexpensive way of adding a digital signature to a document?
Thread poster: Astrid Elke Witte

Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 00:38
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Oct 13, 2008

I have been asked by a client, for the first time ever, to add a digital signature to my invoice. I would have assumed that this must be easily achievable. After some online research, I obtained the information that there were two possibilities: either to buy some software to create a digital signature, or to create one's own digital signature. I opted for the latter, as it appeared less expensive. I then went through the correct steps to create my own digital signature and add this digital signature to the document. After having done so, I received a note on the screen to say that the digital signature had been successfully created. For once I then sent the client my invoice as a Word document - complete with digital signature - instead of, as usual, as a .pdf document.

I received an e-mail back from the client, complaining that the document had not been digitally signed. I politely answered that I had digitally signed the invoice, and provided the client with the correct information on how to view the digital signature - which is hidden in the document.

The client then replied again, saying that it was not possible, with their equipment, to view the digital signature. The client also stated that the other translators always sent a digitally signed .pdf.

I then made my invoice into a .pdf, and clicked, in the appropriate menu, on the option to sign the document. This option was, however, greyed out, although the digital signature I created in Word was also visible, as an available signature to add, in the Adobe Reader menu.

Further research suggested to me initially that only expensive paid versions of Adobe Acrobat (not the free Adobe Reader) will add a digital signature to documents. Then I researched further, and apparently I should have some kind of "use rights" first, but these also have to be bought.

I cannot seem to find any mention, anywhere, of adding a digital signature to a document without paying a lot of money to do so. It would not, however, make business sense to pay out a lot of money, since no-one has ever asked me for a digital signature before, and the invoice in this case is for my minimum fee! I would not mind adding the facility to my business tools, now that it has been requested once, but only if it does not cost a lot.

Astrid


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Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:38
German to English
+ ...
What sort of signature do you need (i.e. does your client want)? Oct 13, 2008

Do you mean a digital signature in the sense of the Signaturgesetz, or a 'normal' handwritten signature embedded in the document?

In the former case, IMO you need software that can generate a digital signature and add it to your document, and you need a signature certificate from an authorised certification body.

In the latter case, you can scan in a copy of your handwritten signature or generate it 'freehand' with the mouse and a drawing program (best done with a drawing tablet) and paste the image file as a picture on your invoice. It's a good idea to then save the invoice as a PDF document to make subsequent manipulation more difficult.


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 00:38
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
The client needs a digital signature of the official kind Oct 13, 2008

Hi Ken,

Thanks for your reply. I would find it practical to simply pick up a pen and physically sign the invoice, and then scan it in. However, that would not meet the client's requirements in this case. The client is looking for what is officially called a "digital signature", presumably in order to conform to some Austrian law or other.

Best regards

Astrid

P.S. The software I have been able to find to date costs considerably more than the amount of my invoice, and, as for certification bodies, I do not know the names of any.

[Edited at 2008-10-13 10:02]


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Claire Cox
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:38
French to English
+ ...
Austrian client Oct 13, 2008

Hi Astrid,

I've had this same request for an Austrian client too. They either require invoices to be digitally signed (and I've had the same problems as you in trying to find out how to do this easily and inexpensively - for one client!) or they still allow me to send a fax with my actual signature on. As I've recently changed from a stand-alone fax machine to using fax software on my computer, in practice this is identical to me sending them a scanned pdf file by e-mail. No other clients make this request and I agree with you that it seems a lot of money to pay for one client. I'm sticking to the fax option for the time being; perhaps you should ask them if that's a possibility for you?

Best wishes,

Claire


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Steven Sidore  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 00:38
Member (2003)
German to English
a quick fix and a longer one Oct 13, 2008

Moin moin Astrid,

The quick fix is to send a paper version of the invoice. If you only get this request once in a blue moon then why bother going the electronic method?

The 'proper' fix is to buy a copy of Adobe Acrobat. (Not the free reader, but the real software). Hardly free, but not that expensive either. I personally use it quite frequently for my business, for adapting and commenting PDFs, but it is also helpful in the cases where someone wants a digital signature.

If memory serves you can download a free 1 month trial from the Adobe website--that would provide another fix for the immediate problem on hand.

Good luck!


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 00:38
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for clarification, Claire and Steven Oct 13, 2008

The client will accept a paper invoice sent by post, so I guess the easiest solution is to despatch one.

However, I was interested in the client's allegation that other translators are sending them digitally signed .pdfs. There was a poll not so long ago which indicated that most translators have a limited income, therefore my immediate conclusion was that, if colleagues (in the plural) are sending digitally signed .pdfs, there must be a way of doing it that does not cost a lot.

It is certainly not worth my while to buy anything at all, when so far I have only done one small job for the agency, for my minimum fee. However, in the interests of learning something new, keeping up with the times and what we should be able to do with our computers, etc., I thought it worthwhile to look into the matter.

Steven, the Adobe Acrobat costs a few hundred, and I have not so far needed its other features. Anyhow, thanks for clarifying the situation. I downloaded a free 1-month trial of something else for another client, and, as it turned out, only needed it repeatedly for two or three weeks and never again (it was to do with locking documents). However, if I work for this client again, sporadically at intervals, then I guess I will need to put my invoices inside an envelope bearing a postage stamp.

Thanks again,

Astrid


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Zoltán Kulcsár  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:38
English to Hungarian
Adobe does not provide certified signatures Oct 13, 2008

... even if you buy the Professional version. You can create self-signed digital ID-s, but a third party cannot verify the authenticity of these ID-s

http://help.adobe.com/en_US/Acrobat/9.0/Standard/WS58a04a822e3e50102bd615109794195ff-7d96.w.html
http://www.adobe.com/security/partners_cds.html


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Boyan Brezinsky  Identity Verified
Bulgaria
Local time: 01:38
English to Bulgarian
+ ...
Have a look at this tool Oct 13, 2008

I just came across that:
http://shop.pdf-office.com/product_info.php?cPath=31&products_id=34
while searching for "germany digital signatures". I have never heard of it before, so I don't know how well it works. Just keep in mind that the text says "With the optional digital signature feature..." However, this is much cheaper than Acrobat and claims to comply with German law.
As said in an earlier post, the other side has no way to establish that it was indeed you who has signed the document. With a self-signed document they can only tell that the document has not been changed en route and that's all. If they really need to positively know that you and not someone else has signed the information (as you mentioned), you will have to get an official digital signature. I suppose there are numerous such providers in Germany, here is a list:
http://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/enid/1f39643c254eb4a5d1a22d3531f9c644,0/ph.html
At least I hope this page is relevant, I don't know German so much as to be able to undersand it without a dictionary. For some more info - http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digitales_Zertifikat , http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualifiziertes_Zertifikat

P.S. And these guys seem to be German as well, and their solution is also not that expensive: http://www.aloaha.com/shop-en/aloaha-pdf-signator-en.php
Again, never heard about them before, but that is because I don't need PDF signing.
And I am pretty sure there are other tools that allow signing a PDF, but I simply haven't done the research.

[Edited at 2008-10-13 12:33]


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Uldis Liepkalns  Identity Verified
Latvia
Local time: 01:38
Member (2003)
English to Latvian
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PDF-XChange PDF Viewer Oct 13, 2008

PDF-XChange PDF Viewer 2.039.2

http://www.download3k.com/System-Utilities/File-Disk-Management/Download-Tracker-Software-Products-Ltd-PDF-XChange-PDF-Viewer.html

It's free. I don't have it installed right now after replacing my old computers struck by lightening, but I allow it may have some digital signature options too.

Uldis


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 00:38
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Does anyone know anything about the first digital signature procedure that I used? Oct 13, 2008

It was a procedure to put a digital signature on a Word document, using your own digital signature. It is, however, hidden in the document, not displayed on the surface of it.

I would like to be able to prove to the client that I applied that digital signature. If it cannot be proven to the client that the digital signature is there, what use is it?

This is the article on the subject, which I followed to the letter:

http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word/HA100997681033.aspx#5

After carrying out this procedure:

1. I could click on a menu in Word and see the digital signature applied.

(The client stated that it was not visible on her PC)

2. I found it impossible to change a single character in the document after applying the digital signature.

(The client stated that she could easily change it, and sent it back with some changes)

What is going on here, then? And why is this procedure called a "digital signature" if it is not a digital signature? Is Microsoft simply making fun of people?

Astrid


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Ritu Bhanot  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 00:38
Member (2006)
French to Hindi
+ ...
Digital Signature Oct 13, 2008

Hi Astrid,

I use verisign digital signature for my e-mails:

http://www.verisign.com/authentication/individual-authentication/digital-id/index.html

It costs me 19.95 USD. I'm not sure how useful it is but it certainly has one disadvantage:

Some people have trouble when they want to reply to my e-mails!!!

I don't know if it is of some use for you but I hope that it will help you to some extent.

Reetu


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Anil Gidwani  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 04:08
German to English
+ ...
No inexpensive method Oct 13, 2008

I'm afraid there doesn't seem to be any inexpensive official way to digitally sign a document.

Adobe's full version allows digital signatures that are generally accepted. I purchased the full version of Adobe a few years ago for other reasons, and began to enjoy the digital signature feature as a bonus. The version of Adobe is not supported on Vista, and I don't want to shell out that kind of money again to upgrade.

Instead, I paid to get a hardware token-based digital certificate from a licensed certifying authority, since I needed it for other purposes (including filing my tax returns electronically), and it's worth it. It may also be a tax-deductible expense.


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RNAtranslator  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:38
English to Spanish
+ ...
Digital signature in another file Oct 13, 2008

You can use your private key to make a signature for your invoice and send it in a separate file together with your invoice; then your client would use your public key to check the signature.

For example, I have just signed a PDF file and as a result I've got a text file that contains this:

-----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (GNU/Linux)

iD8DBQBI85Ey8pE3oNpAYlURAt/XAJ4ncKHB4O3evlvERc5cBXmyQAbaAgCfVpoy
SBnYGNrfy0CZFezO8AAYpjo=
=vDtB
-----END PGP SIGNATURE-----

If you had my public key (I could send it by mail) you could verify that the PDF file matches the signature.

All the software needed is free (free both as in "freedom" and as in "no cost") available both for Windows and Linux.

The problem is that might be your client does not like you to send them the signature in a separate file.

I suppose they asked you to deliver your public key; otherwise, the wouldn't know at all what they are talking about, since without your public key they can not verify your signature.

bsb_2 is right when he/she says that they can not verify that the document is signed by you and not by anybody else, but you don't need an official signature; you just need your public key signed by a trustable third party or a third party trusted by your client. Any true trustable third party should need to see you face to face and see your passport or any other official document that proves that you are the one you claim to be. But it is quite possible you don't need this, since most probaby they have no idea about how digital signing works. For me, it is astonishing the giant ignorance of well established companies about digital signing and cryptography.


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 23:38
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Check out the offerings at Deutsche Post and the Sparkassen Oct 13, 2008

Both offer relatively inexpensive systems for verified digital signatures of PDF documents that meet the requirements of the current German law. You will probably be hearing more requests like this in the future - lately I have had a veritable flood of customers who used to take unsigned PDFs requesting signed hardcopy (significant expense for postage!) or digitally signed PDF invoices. The cost for everything to get started is less than half of what I would spend on postage for invoices in one year.

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RNAtranslator  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:38
English to Spanish
+ ...
Do you have your public key? Oct 13, 2008

shyamal wrote:

Hi Astrid,

I use verisign digital signature for my e-mails:

http://www.verisign.com/authentication/individual-authentication/digital-id/index.html

It costs me 19.95 USD. I'm not sure how useful it is but it certainly has one disadvantage:

Some people have trouble when they want to reply to my e-mails!!!

I don't know if it is of some use for you but I hope that it will help you to some extent.

Reetu


Hi shyamal,

Verisign says that it is intended for mail signing and Astrid needs to sign documents. I beg you to tell me more about that Verisign system you use:

Do you have your public key? Is it signed by Verisign? The receiver needs it to verify your signature. If that's the case, you could make a signature for any kind of document, and also everybody could encrypt documents with your public key and only you would be able to decrypt them.

Thank you in advance, shyamal.


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