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Digital Certificates: What are they, what are they meant for and which advantages do they provide?

What are Digital Certificates?

An Electronic Certificate or Digital Certificate is a digital file issued by a Certification Authority, such as vinCAsign, which guarantees the link between the identity of a person or entity and the public part of the file and, therefore, allows the identification of its holder unequivocally.

Digital Certificates allow citizens or companies to identify themselves to third parties, sign documents electronically, and carry out telematic procedures securely and confidentially complying with European regulations such as eIDAS and providing the highest levels of security with full legal guarantees.

What is the difference between a Digital Certificate and a Digital Signature?

The digital or electronic certificate links a person’s identity to a digital file using cryptographic technology and is issued by a Certification Authority. 

For the issuance of a digital certificate, the person’s identification and authentication are required. Today, thanks to the new regulation ETD/465/21, video identification is allowed, avoiding the need for face-to-face until recently.

The digital or electronic signature is a cryptographic code created when associating the digital certificate with a document and allowing the recipient to validate the signatory’s identity while guaranteeing that the document has not been altered.

The European regulatory framework,  eIDAS 910/2014, recognizes 3 types of electronic signature, simple, advanced, and qualified. However, only the qualified signature offers the highest level of security, equaling the handwritten signature in terms of its legal validity. The qualified signature guarantees the identity of the signer and the integrity of the signed electronic document.

Thus, we see that with a digital certificate, we identify the person, while with a digital signature, we link the person who has signed the document. The digital certificate is a type of electronic signature.

What are Digital Certificates used for?

The digital certificate serves us for three main classes of functions:

1. Authenticate: The main function is to authenticate the person who owns it, although smart devices with an Internet connection can also be authenticated. The digital certificate is one of today’s most secure authentication methods since it allows encrypting, decrypting, authenticating, and protecting the privacy and integrity of the data.

2. Carry out procedures online: Thanks to Digital Certificates, citizens and companies can expedite, manage and simplify online procedures with the electronic offices of Public Administrations such as SEPE, Town Halls, National Police, Social Security, the Tax Agency, among others, offering a fast and safe service.

It is worth mentioning that the law obliges to interact electronically with the administration to legal persons, entities without legal personality, those who carry out a professional activity for which compulsory registration is required, employees of Public Administration, and those who represent anyone included in this group. Moreover, it allows natural persons to choose whether they want to communicate electronically with the Public Administration.

Among the many procedures that can be carried out online today, we find: immigration procedures, applications for unemployment benefits or subsidies, marriage certification, applications for deregistration of the cadastral owner, applications for retirement pension, among many others.

3. Sign official or legal documents: As we saw, the digital certificate is one of the digital signature options. This allows citizens and companies to electronically sign official documents such as employment contracts, commercial contracts, mortgages, etc.

Which benefits do Digital Certificates provide?

Legal validity: The electronic signature with a qualified digital certificate has the same legal value as a handwritten signature, with the added advantage that it has traceability that a paper signature does not.

In addition, electronic signatures are supported by the European eIDAS and national regulatory framework.

Save time: nowadays, we find many procedures that can or must be carried out online with public administrations, banks, real estate, medical services, etc. Digital certificates help us expedite those procedures, avoiding displacements and long queues.

Saving money: we reduce paper, printing, and storage costs thanks to certificates or digital signatures.

It favors the environment: It helps to reduce the use of paper due to the digitization of online procedures, which reduces the carbon footprint.

Security: digitally signed documents cannot be altered, being more secure and reliable than those signed on paper.

In conclusion, digital certificates are one of the technologies most used today by companies and individuals since they facilitate and protect telematic procedures, guaranteeing our identity and the document’s validity.

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