Distanced, out of office (off campus) operational dictated by the 2020 pandemic has imposed a heavy burden on business operations, and forced the need for operational requirements to evolve to meet the demands of New Age Working Practices (NAWP) to sustain secure, assured operability and communication. However, in this impasse of criminal opportunity, hackers, organised criminals and even state sponsored actors have sought to leverage the enhanced surface of attack presented by multiples of international companies. In some cases, manifesting in social engineering to persuade the transfer of multi-million £/$ transactions into illicit accounts through the use of manipulated communications; or the uttering of falsified, untrusted documents to lure the exposed recipient (end user target) into believing what they are reading is the truth – all of which create a very real-world, everyday security trust vulnerability for users and their companies alike.
By example, one such case of the abuse of trust, and the lack of assured provenance of a document security is that of the leaked document used by Jeremy Corbyn as proof that the Conservative Party were planning to sell off the NHS – documents which have now been somewhat discredited, and are linked to a Russian disinformation campaign under the banner of “Secondary Infektion”. Here there is a very strong argument in favour of assuring document provenance and trust with solutions which I utilise – the Galaxkeys Digital Signing system to secure objects in the electronic form.
It is also worthy of note that on 21/07/20 the Intelligence and Security Committee of the UK Parliament published their paper on the threat posed by Russia, which outlined the Russians and their circulation of disinformation. It is here, where again we see a very strong case for document and security – we would seem to have Cyber Threats targeting us from both Red and Yellow backdrops! But then again, given that it was the Quarterly Security Update of 2010 alerted to closed-circles of users that the risk from both domains was well established and accepted – see Fig 1.
Fig 1 – 2010 – Accepted International Treats
In this imposed NAWP there is a clear business need to:
- Accommodate Systems that enhance the level of ‘Trust’
- Provide Mechanisms which are, as far as practicable beyond reproach
- Deliver solutions that may be employed enterprise wide
- Accommodate facilities to encompass Out-of-Band (OoB) organizations
- Underpin mandated Policies, Standards and Legal Expectations
One obvious solution is to deploy an assured and trusted methodology which provides an additional level of assurance that the object in view is a single qualified representation of the truth, is genuine, and thus can be trusted. Clearly, when it comes to a Face-2-Face (F2F) commercial negotiation, with one party signing a document in presence of the other, with the attendance of witnesses is of course considered a trusted, none-refutable transaction. However, with a communication that is distance based, or one which has evolved as a product of NAWP, in pure pragmatic terms businesses must evolve a trusted operational capability to promote and support ‘Trust’. Here one very solid solution is that of Digitally Signing a document to support the objects provenance and trustworthiness.
The Legal Position
Digital Signing of a Document and the associated legal implications relating to trust are established and supported under legislations around Digital Signatures out of consultations in 2018 of the Law Commission in England and Wales who issued their report in September 2019 (the “Commission’s Report“) clarifying the legal validity of the use of the electronic signature to execute a valid contract. They concluded that the different forms of electronic signature can be divided into three groups:
- Simple electronic signatures – these are scanned signatures or a tick-box plus declaration.
- Advanced electronic signatures – these can identify the user, are unique to them, are under the sole control of the user and are attached to a document in a way that it becomes invalidated if the contents are changed; and
- Qualified electronic signatures – these are advanced electronic signatures with a digital certificate encrypted by way of a secure signature creation device
Considering the legislative provisions on electronic documents and signatures, Scots and English law have their basis in European law. Regulation (EU) No 910/2014 (the “eIDAS Regulation“), which replaces EU Directive 1999/93/EC. This has driven the direct effect in EU Member States from 1st July 2016 and establishes an EU-wide legal framework for electronic signatures. The eIDAS Regulation defines:
- an “electronic signature” as “data in electronic form which is attached to or logically associated with other data in electronic form (say a document) and which is used by the signatory to sign”
- an “advanced electronic signature” as one which meets the following requirements: (i) it is uniquely linked to the signatory; (ii) it is capable of identifying the signatory; (iii) it is created using electronic signature creation data that the signatory can, with a high level of confidence, use under his sole control; and (iv) it is linked to the data (document) signed therewith in such a way that any subsequent change in the data is detectable; and
- a “qualified electronic signature” as “an advanced electronic signature that is created by a qualified electronic signature creation device (Galaxkey Platform), and which is based on a qualified certificate for electronic signatures”
As a further example, The Land Registration – (Scotland) Act 2012 and the Electronic Documents (Scotland) Regulations 2014 now confer the same status and standards of validity on documents created in electronic form to those given in the form of hard-copy paper documents
In reviewing other relevant legal provisions, a Joint Working Party comprising The Law Society, Company Law Committee, The City of London Law Society Company Law and Financial Law Committees (“the JWP”) formed the opinion that a contract executed using an electronic signature (and which may be signed solely in electronic form) satisfies a statutory requirement to be in writing and/or signed and/or under hand. This position may be asserted to extend to that of a Digitally Signed Document. However, this paper both recognises and acknowledges that to accomplish and complete end-to-end assured, trusted solution the deployment must not only focus on technology, but must encompass the related practices that accommodate provisioning of a complete trusted solution – this will be covered later by this paper.
We should also consider some other verticals, such as, and by example that of the US Life Sciences Regulations (21 CFR Part II) which impose additional requirements beyond those of the general U.S. laws regarding eSignatures and digital transactions. For example, 21 CFR Part 11 which outlines the requirements for electronic records and electronic signatures to be accepted by the FDA. Among other things, Part 11 requires that electronic records:
- Be validated to ensure accuracy, reliability, consistent intended performance, and the ability to discern valid or altered records
- Be able to generate accurate and complete copies of records in both human readable and electronic form suitable for inspection, review, and copying by the FDA
- Ensure records are protected
- Limit access to authorized individuals
- Use secure, computer-generated, time-stamped audit trails to independently record the date and time of operator entries and actions that create, modify, or delete electronic records
At the International level, one must always consider the local rules of the particular domicile when deploying any technology, However, the overall purpose of this blog is to make the case for the level of assurance that, given correct implementation, deployment and support, such a service may be considered a trusted operational solution to assure robust document provenance, integrity and trustworthiness are fully accommodated.
As part of my research I also interviewed a selection of high-end UK legal practices to seek their opinion as to document signing, and electronic signatures. These interviews firmly concluded that, albeit the findings were agnostic to the employed technical solutions, document signing and digital signatures, are used and trusted as common practice to secure communicated and distributed electronic objects.
Of course, it is not just about simply installing an application and forgetting it. When we look to deploy the concept of a trusted security solutions such as eSignatures, or Document Signing, it is of paramount importance that what is being secured is accurate, true, and maintained to underpin the overall security objective and go one step further to underpin additional assured levels of company/user provisioning to elevate the level of associated trust. In the case of Galaxkey, they are also partnering with Yoti who provide a tethered user identification solution tied into ‘something you have’ credentials, such as a valid driving licence, or UK passport which are fully qualified by Yoti prior to them being trusted. Thus, by implication, enhances the level of trust of the solution to a higher robust level.
As outlined above, to achieve a fully qualified robust service it is of paramount importance that the technology is underpinned with direction of secure operability, and so there is an expectation that policies and security operating procedures are in place to underpin the end user operability and use of the security technology.
One of my likes, and actually the reason why I choose to use the Galaxkey solutions is that they have gone through the rigour of CPA (Commercial Product Assurance) under the UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) scheme and achieved Certification of their email platform, and here they may be asserted to be a robust and trusted provider with a proven, independently verified assured platform to meet the requirements of NAWP – See NCSC associated link below:
Platforms and Trust
In the current Cyber Security climate there is fear and doubt of the current threats posed by International State Sponsored Actors and Criminals. To address this, Galaxkey systems are either hosted in the UK, or by user election, deployed internal to their own on-campus operational facilities – reducing/mitigating the potential threat of adverse actors manipulating the systems and components to which they have potential ease of access. Furthermore, Galaxkey are a UK based/owned company with no development association with any known international bad actors such as China or Russia – for me, another big green procurement tick in the box.
In conclusion, the case for deployment of Document Digital Signing technologies is strong in both legal, and operational security terms. For companies seeking to secure their NAWP business interests and sensitive information assets, such mechanisms should be a asserted to be a must have security technology to inbuild into their cyber defence capabilities – provisioning robust assurance and provenance for documents they produce, and distribute. It is clear the benefits of document signing are a highly effective underpin of security, trust, and legally acceptability that are asserted to exist within a professional, operational world driven by technology and electronic commercial business transactions.
Returning to the introduction of this blog, and mindful of the cyber threats now faced by multiples of international organisations from Russia, China and any other such warped nation who wish to take a cyber pop-shot, along with the known-known associated successful security attacks, compromises, disinformation and social engineering by electronic means. We must recognise and accept the threat is ever present and growing in pure Active Persistent Threat (APT) terms. Thus, the ultimate final bottom line conclusion must be, the case for securing organisational digital assets by employment of a legally acceptable digital document signing methodology, along with secure communications has never been stronger.