Professional organisations need to send out documents that reflect the image of their company and getting your Access databases digitally signed can help you to foster the right image.

Although your office is likely to be housed in a bricks and mortar building, a lot of your business will probably be carried out online. From conference calls to collaborating on documents with colleagues in far-flung destinations, tasks are increasingly likely to be completed with the help of the web. This makes it especially important to present a professional image, which digital signatures can assist you with.

Why sign the virtual line

Just as your firm used to - or still does - send out paperwork with letterheads attached, so you need to apply the same effort to your virtual documents. Taking the example of an Access database, these documents can contain massive amounts of information regarding your company and clients. In fact, they can carry data regarding any of the operations your firm carries out, so if you're in the business of building homes, you could have stored information regarding the cost of materials, labour and salaries of the staff involved.

If you choose to share this data online, those receiving it will want to know that nothing has been altered and the files come directly from your organisation. Digital signatures help to add an element of authenticity to your Access database and they reassure the firm receiving it that it comes directly from your business. These kinds of figures can make or break contracts and they may come under great scrutiny by team leaders looking to do business with you.

Even slight differences in data could sway those in charge to decline your firm's services. To stop files being corrupted or hacked and precious data being lost or changed, digital signatures act as a promise to the receiver that no information has been added or taken away since your firm left its signature on the files concerned.

Signatures explained

So what exactly are digital signatures and where can you get one? Unlike the few lines of information found at the bottom of emails that can be written by anyone, these signatures are an official stamp of authentication and they can be added to all sorts of documents. They rely on a system of keys (codes), encryption and certificates. The keys used generally come in two types, which are called private and public keys.

Once you've completed the document and you're ready to get it sent out then you sign it using a 'private' key, the information is encrypted then sent to the desired location. The 'public' key is used to read the encrypted information only if the public and private keys match, which is another security level added to the sent files.

Are they complicated to set up?

In order to take advantage of these signatures you'll need to contact a professional organisation that can offer you signing certificates. The process involves verifying your identity and they will issue you with a public key authority. Certificates tend to last for 12 months and it's important to make sure you renew these when they run out so you can still send out documents with these seals of authenticity.

Some software allows you to create your own digital certificates, but these documents cannot be check for authenticity if they are sent beyond the computer that created them. These could still be useful in regard to small companies that simply want to 'seal' and sign their documents, but to share your Access database with others then its recommended that you contact a valid digital signing authority.