Adobe Acrobat supports a range of solutions for electronic and digital signatures. These solutions include certificate signatures that let you sign PDF files with a certificate-based digital ID. Certificate signatures are also known as digital signatures. Acrobat lets you create your own certificate ID. However, the more common approach is to work with a certificate ID that a trusted third-party certificate authority issued. Additional signing options in Acrobat include integration with Adobe Sign.

Why use certificate signatures?

Many business transactions, including financial, legal, and other regulated transactions, require high assurance when signing documents. When documents are distributed electronically, it is important that recipients can:

  • Verify document authenticity—confirming the identity of each person who signed the document
  • Verify document integrity—confirming that the document has not been altered in transit

Certificate-based signatures provide both of these security services. Many businesses and governments have chosen to set up a certificate-based digital signature infrastructure within their organization. They use third-party certificate authorities to provide independent identity validation. Examples include:

  • Companies in the European Union who need to comply with "advanced" or "qualified" electronic signature requirements in eIDAS e-signature regulation, or the ETSI PAdES standard (PDF Advanced Electronic Signatures)
  • Pharmaceutical companies who need to use signatures that comply with the SAFE (Signatures & Authentication For Everyone) BioPharma industry standard

What can I do with certificate IDs?

Once certificate-based digital IDs have been provided to end users, they can use Acrobat or Acrobat Reader software to sign PDF files and validate files they receive from others.

Sign documents

  • Sign PDF files using certificate IDs
  • Place a signature box anywhere on the page
  • Add multiple signatures to a page
  • Add a time stamp to the document when working with a configured time stamp server
  • Certify a document with a visible or hidden signature so that recipients can verify authenticity with or without seeing a visible signature on the page
  • Automatically embed certificate data to support long-term validation

Validate documents

  • Validate all signatures, confirming the identity of everyone who signed the document
  • Validate document integrity by tracking all previously signed versions of a document to verify changes made during the document’s lifecycle

Set privileges and permissions for others

  • Certify a document while leaving portions of it available for form filling, signatures, or comments
  • Use Acrobat Pro software to enable users of Reader 9 or later to sign with certificate IDs
  • Use Acrobat Standard or Pro to encrypt a PDF document with a certificate ID to restrict usage such as printing, editing, or copying

What if my organization isn’t prepared to set up certificate-based signatures?

Consider signing up for Adobe Sign online, the leader in e-signatures and web contracting. With Adobe Sign, you can get PDF, Microsoft Word, and other documents sent, signed, and filed instantly. And best of all, Adobe hosts it securely, so your IT department doesn’t have to do the work of setting up a signature infrastructure.

Resources

Adobe Approved Trust List (AATL): The Adobe Approved Trust List is a program that allows millions of users around the world to create digital signatures that are trusted whenever the signed document is opened in Acrobat or Reader software. Check out the current members.

Adobe Security and Privacy Portal: A good first stop for all things security and privacy at Adobe.

Certified Document Services: Certified Document Services (CDS) was the predecessor to the AATL.

Content Security Library: Extensive documentation on Adobe certificate signature administration.

Managing Digital IDs: Help pages for digital ID management.

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