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How to Choose a Digital Certificate for Remote Online Notary

A Trusted Technology Takes Documents Beyond the Signature

Remote Online Notarizations, or RONs, were gaining traction well before the pandemic. Yet the shift toward remote work made their benefits even more enticing. RONs enable public notaries to perform their duties without being physically present — reducing paperwork and expediting the notarization process.

Despite their convenience, electronically notarized documents present risks that aren’t associated with physical documents. In particular, digital documents are easier to intercept and alter and thus harder to authenticate without additional security measures.

In this post, we’ll unpack the risks — and explain how the right digital certificate can help notaries preserve data integrity and secure the RON process.

What Is a Notary Digital Certificate?

Notarizing a document requires two things: a seal and a signature. Electronic seals are little more than securely stored digital versions of their ink or embossed counterparts, but what about signatures? The simplest type is called an electronic signature, which is essentially any signature that’s transmitted electronically — whether it’s an image of your handwritten signature or a digitally-written signature.

A digital signature, by contrast, requires that signers use a credential that’s bound to their identity. This helps ensure that the individual who signs a document really is who they say they are, and it’s where digital certificates come in.

Digital certificates work behind the scenes, using cryptographic keys, to validate a document’s authenticity. They support RONs by verifying the identity of the notary who signed and sealed a document — and by indicating whether changes have been made since the notarization was completed.

Digital certificates can be obtained by trusted issuing authorities, either directly or via authorized vendors and remote notarization technology providers. Many providers even enable notaries to customize the appearance of their digital signatures.

Benefits of Notary Digital Certificates

Though the use of notary digital certificates is not currently mandatory in all of the states that have adopted RON statutes, there are several major benefits to using them:

  • Trust: Anyone with the right URL can “sign” a document on your behalf. Timestamps aren’t hard to alter with the right software. With digital signatures, your identity is indelibly linked to your signature, yielding a higher level of trust and immediately alerting people who try to open a document that’s been altered after you signed it.
  • Productivity: Notaries who practice in multiple states already know that each jurisdiction has its own program and requirements. Yet digital certificates are both technically and legally valid across multiple states — in fact, some states stipulate that only one digital certificate be associated with each remote notary commission application. This streamlines notaries’ workflow across multiple geographies.
  • Compliance: Senate Bill 1625, the so-called “SECURE Notarization Act,” was introduced in 2021 to establish standards for remote notarizations that affect interstate commerce. Though the bill is not yet law, it requires that notary signatures be “bound to the electronic record in a manner that renders any subsequent change or modification to the electronic record evident.” Using digital certificates is one of the most convenient and effective ways to comply with this stipulation.

Selecting the Right Notary Digital Certificate

Digital certificates aren’t difficult to obtain, but there are a few things notaries should keep in mind as they determine which certificate best fits their needs:

  • U.S. Federal Bridge Cross-Certification: The X.509 Certificate Policy for the Federal Bridge Certification Authority (FBCA) defines seven certificate policies to facilitate interoperability. Selecting a certificate that’s cross-certified under this policy provides a high level of assurance and ensures that the certificate will be trusted by most federal and state government agencies.
  • Platform Compatibility: Notaries can choose from dozens of electronic notary platforms, from DocuSign to Notarize. Digital certificates should be integrated into these platforms — and be compatible with standard applications like Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Word.
  • CA Certificate Compatibility: Digital certificates can be retrieved on software (i.e., web browsers) or hardware like USB tokens or smart cards. Software certificates are intended to be used mainly from a single computer and are relatively inexpensive. Hardware-based certificates are more expensive, but they are also more portable and offer additional security via built-in second factor authentication. The Certificate Authority you choose to work with should be able to provide both hardware and software based digital certificates.

Security is essential as RON processes and requirements continue to evolve — and digital certificates give notaries the assurance that they are protecting their work with state-of-the-art technologies.

IdenTrust has provided online notary digital certificates for over a decade. Learn more about the power — and convenience — of these trusted certificates at IdenTrust.com >>

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Mrugesh Chandarana is Product Management Director for Identity and Access Management Solutions at HID Global, where he focuses on IoT and PKI solutions. He has more than ten years of cybersecurity industry experience in areas such as risk management, threat and vulnerability management, application security and PKI. He has held product management positions at RiskSense, WhiteHat Security (acquired by NTT Security), and RiskVision (acquired by Resolver, Inc.)