NW_20000707_en_Energy eBusiness , July 7, 2000_ "Just Sign on the Virtual, Non-Existent Line"

July 7, 2000

We had to wonder after legislators, dot-coms and the press alike all spent considerable time praising the much ballyhooed digital signature bill as the next step in e-commerce, just how it would change the face of what we do online. President Clinton inked the bill last week, making it law come Oct. 1. Early responses from energy companies varied from “it won’t matter that much” to “it could change the face of the industry.”

Either way, we couldn’t help but notice that not many people were clear on how the whole digital signature thing worked.

So we asked Jonathan Chinitz, vice president at Illinois-based VASCO Data Security International, a company that specializes in network security and digital signature technology. VASCO has a bit of experience in the energy industry; earlier this year they linked a deal with Southern California Edison to provide e-commerce network security services.

Bottom line: Digital signatures ain’t so simple. And, the actual signature part of the bill is but the tip of the iceberg. For each signature to be valid and sage and usable with contracts, you have to have a digital certificate. Digital certificate? Huh? What?

“A digital signature first of all is a technologic algorithmic process, and there’s more than one way to create a digital signature,” Chinitz says.