Digital Signatures and its Different Types

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) of India defines a Digital Signature or more appropriately, Digital Signature Certificate (DSC) as the digital equivalent (electronic format) of the corresponding physical or paper certificate.

A few examples of physical certificates are driver’s license, passport, Permanent Account Number (PAN) card or the more recently Aadhaar card. These certificates serve as proof of identity of an individual for a certain purpose. A driver’s license identifies someone who can legally drive in a particular country. Likewise, a ‘digital certificate’ can be presented ‘electronically’ to prove one’s identity, to access information or services over the internet and even to sign certain documents digitally.

Just as physical paper documents are signed manually, electronic documents such as e-forms, are required to be signed digitally using a Digital Signature Certificate.

Digital Signatures are legally admissible in a Court of Law, as provided under the provisions of IT Act, 2000 of India.

How to get a Digital Signature Certificate?

A licensed ‘Certifying Authority’ (CA) issues the digital signature. A Certifying Authority is a trusted agency whose central responsibility is to issue, revoke, renew and provide directories for Digital Signature Certificates. The MCA maintains an up-to-date list of various agencies that are granted this license.

The Certifying Authorities are authorized to issue a Digital Signature Certificate with a validity of one or two years. Generally, a lead time of 3-7 working days is required to get a DSC, once it is applied. In the case of individuals holding a valid Aadhaar number, eKYC verification can be conducted online, and the DSC gets issued immediately on the same day.

The Certifying Authorities have been granted flexibility to charge fees at their discretion, within permissible limits set by the MCA. Normally, for an individual DSC, the fees will be approximately ₹750.00.

What are the types of Digital Signature Certificates?

Primarily, there are four types of digital signature certificates, as explained below:

Class 1: It is used for identification of username and email ID to state that these details belong to a particular person. However, it cannot be used for authentication purposes and hence, is not allowed to sign any documents.

Class 2: In this case, the identity of a person is verified against a trusted, pre-verified database. It is issued to an individual or organization for purposes such as income tax e-return filing, MCA/ROC (Ministry of Corporate Affairs / Registrar of Companies) returns filing, provident fund claims filing, etc. It can be conveniently downloaded over the internet from anywhere.

Class 3: This is the highest level where the person needs to physically present himself/herself in front of a Registration Authority (RA) and prove his / her identity with appropriate documents. This digital certificate is used for booking online tickets, e-tenders, e-procurement, etc.

DGFT Digital Signature Certificate: This is issued by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT). It is used to sign the foreign trade transactions and while communicating with the DGFT.

Assess the purpose of a Digital Signature before applying for one. Once issued a signature, you can use the Trust key USB token to store the digital signature certificate safely.