US bank rolls out digital signature service

Wells Fargo bank customers will soon be able to use digital signatures and Adobe Portable Document Format documents to conduct...

Wells Fargo bank customers will soon be able to use digital signatures and Adobe Portable Document Format documents to conduct sensitive business transactions.

The US bank will deploy a service called SimpleSign that combines Adobe Systems' Acrobat technology with digital identity services from Identrus.

The service is designed to prevent document spoofing and allows banks and their customers to sign PDF documents with digital signatures, creating legally binding digital documents such as loan origination forms and letters of credit.

If widely adopted in the US, the SimpleSign service could make it faster and cheaper for banks and other financial institutions to process documents, said Clay Epstein, vice president of product and technology at Identrus.

Wells Fargo has been using the SimpleSign technology for three or four months in a pilot test with a number of other US banks and will soon roll out the service across its business units and international businesses run by the bank.

Identrus is a network of about 60 banks worldwide that promotes a legal infrastructure and open technology platform for digital identity services including identity authentication and digital signatures.

The system counts Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, Chase Manhattan Bank and Citigroup as members and is designed to provide a stable technology and legal foundation for electronic-financial transactions, independent of differing national laws governing the use of digital credentials.

The Identrus technology platform is based on standard X.509 digital certificates and Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) for exchanging and validating online signatures, with each bank in the system acting as its own certificate authority.

Acrobat Version 6.0 products recognise and accept Identrus digital certificates, using them and Acrobat's built-in digital signing features to verify documents and prevent document spoofing.

When signed documents are received by Indentrus, OCSP requests sent to the certificate authority immediately confirm the document's authenticity.

"The real-time validation mechanism is important to banks. An individual document can always be sent from somebody who claims to be Citibank, Wells Fargo or Chase. By using a document signed by the bank and verified by a trusted party like Identrus, [SimpleSign] provides an antispoofing function," Epstein said.

Version 6.0 of Acrobat Professional, Acrobat Standard edition and the free Acrobat Reader all support SimpleSign.

UK banks are already using SimpleSign to push some aspects of mortgage processing to an electronic form. However, the US lags behind Europe and countries like Australia because of slower adoption of technology such as smart cards and digital certificates.

Banks stand to benefit tremendously in switching from paper to electronic documents, Epstein said.

In addition to saving on ancillary services produced by paper documents, such as courier services and document transfers, banks can easily parse long electronic applications into their constituent pieces, automating functions like credit checks, title searches or cash management instructions.

Paul Roberts writes for IDG News Service

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