From the April 2001 issue of Entrepreneur

When the E-Sign Act became law last year, it created myriad possibilities for the use of digital signatures in contracts. The act makes legally binding everything from signing e-mails to the online closing of mortgages. It's been pegged as a boon to e-commerce and a way to cut back on paperwork. Now companies are scrambling to release e-signature technology to consumers and businesses, giving you a variety of options to choose from.

A lot of security concerns revolve around e-mail, but the ability to authenticate electronic transactions will soon allay those concerns. On Sign offers free downloadable software that allows a digital signature to be attached to a Microsoft Word document or an Outlook/Outlook Express e-mail. Any unauthorized alteration of the document invalidates the encrypted signature. Other companies with different methods and more advanced paid services include VeriSign and iLumin.

Another approach to digital signatures features the use of biometrics. Retina, finger, voice and face scans qualify under the E-Sign Act. Communication Intelligence Corp. offers a less exotic version of biometric signature authentication with its Sign-it product family. The Sign-it software works in conjunction with a signature-capture device, like a graphics tablet, and Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Word. Sign-it verifies the user's signature and attaches it to the Acrobat or Word file so that it can be securely sent.

Allowing you to purchase or close sales faster and reduce the clutter of paperwork, digital signatures will be a convenient way to conduct e-commerce transactions. It may be another year or two before the technology really comes into its own, but it's definitely coming.