In times of uncertainty and difficulties in running a business, digital signatures have become the second most searched-for technology in the world. However, when deciding to digitize, most companies opt for solutions that also enable the company to manage business processes.

Several days ago, a Polish company was signing a contract worth half a million euro. The sealed documents had arrived, and only a signature was required for the transfer. At the last minute, a manager caught an error and called the number provided. On the phone the manager heard not the voice of a contractor and longtime acquaintance, but of a stranger. The fraudster was unable maintain the pretense, and was frightened off after the manager asked his wife’s name.

Impossible? This is actually what recently happened in a coordinated attack on three companies from one capital group. Unfortunately, it was too late to intervene in one attack – the transfer was processed.

Forgeries come to light by accident

The national quarantine and the ensuing economic paralysis ruthlessly exposed the inadequacy of analog processes and highlighted the need for better supervision over corporate documents. When a company is in a crisis situation, whatever fraud that is occurring might not be visible at first glance.

In 2018, the number of proceedings initiated under Art. 270a CC (Criminal Code) decreased by 9 percent compared to 2017 and since then it has remained constant at around 100 cases per year. However, the exact number cannot be determined – experts estimate that there are up to a million false documents of various kinds in circulation. Since the beginning of 2020, 26 cases of improperly regulated document have already been identified in Poland. This is approximately a quarter of the total number of cases as compared to last year. Interestingly, the police statistics include twice as many crimes detected as reported in Art. 270 CC. This is because when paper dominates in business, forgeries come to light “by accident”; most often after a loan is overdue, goods aren’t delivered, VAT hasn’t been paid, or transactions involving stolen cars.

In order to determine that company documents written on paper have been forged, an expert should carry out a document analysis. This takes a minimum of a few days and costs at least several hundred zlotys (€100). – We receive various types of contracts, authorizations, and certificates. Last year, we conducted several hundred analyzes of this type – says prof. Mirosław Goc, president of the Polish Forensic Society (PFS).

In the case of company documents that are sent to PFS experts, most requests concern determining the age of the wrting on various types of backdated letters. The PFS is one of the few institutions in Poland that is able to determine which came first: a signature or a printout; and they are also able to indicate approximately when the writing was done. “It is a common situation in companies for one partner to leave a blank document for another partner which is then used contrary to its intended purpose.” – explains prof. Goc.

Using a tablet to capture a signature is not protection against forgery. “In this situation we are talking about a biometric signature, which is a handwritten signature on a digital medium. An application allow you to automatically recognize whether the signature is authentic by assessing the pressure, tilt of the tool, writing speed, and the graphic image itself.” – explains the president of PFS. He goes on to emphasize that, “…in the event that biometric recognition fails, expert analysis must be carried out in the same way as with analog signatures.”

Digital signature boom

As PFS experts note, classic signatures will become less and less important as digitization in Poland accelerates. Polish state agencies (and other EU institutions and member states) also force organizations to use IT solutions. E-invoices and e-settlements are becoming more popular, and ultimately in Poland  (and across the EU) the standard will be “digital by default”, i.e. the legally guaranteed possibility of performing all official procedures digitally.

In August 2019, experts from Fortune magazine estimated that due to the number of e-business processes implemented, the digital signature market will grow by more than 28 percent annually until 2026. According to Fortune, the interest in e-signatures is driven not only by technological innovations, but better work organization, better customer experiences, and increasing government investment in electronic documents. The increasing use of digital signature software not only eliminates the risk of fraud, it improves data integrity, transparency, and satisfaction for both employees and customers. MarketsAndMarkets experts estimated that the global digital signature market will grow from $1.2 billion in 2018 to $5.5 billion by 2023, with a cumulative annual growth rate (CAGR) of 36.7% over the forecast period.

Global quarantine measures have sparked a tremendous interest in digital signatures. At the beginning of April, the popularity of inquiries about this type of system on the TrustRadius portal increased by as much as 511%, placing this technology in second place in the ranking, just behind telemedicine solutions. Interestingly, the TrustRadius survey shows that 27% of companies have recently bought new IT solutions, and only 18% have suspended corporate spending. “We are slowly coming out of the most difficult stage for the economy and now is the right time to invest in innovative solutions.” – says Przemysław Sołdacki, CEO of Amodit, producer of the business process management platform.

People are hacked most often

Over the past few years, the number of companies introducing a “paperless office” has clearly increased in Poland, although the decisive incentive here is usually savings and the desire to clean up the mess of “papers” rather than innovation or ecology. Various forms of e-signature have also been introduced.

“Electronic signature is the generic name for a wide group of document authentication solutions that also includes digital signatures. An electronic signature can be a symbol, process, or even a sound attached to the signed document in electronic form. On the other hand, a digital signature is a block of digitally encoded information that forms an integral part of the information and seals the contents. Thanks to this, any modification attempt is immediately detectable.” – explains the CEO of Amodit. “In the case of documents on the AMODIT platform, signatures are secured with blockchain technology which offers the highest level of data security presently possible.” – explains Przemysław Sołdacki.

Is a digital signature impossible to forge? Just a dozen or so days ago, the Niebezpiecznik portal described an intervention related to the service of signing documents using the Trusted Profile, created by the Ministry of Digitization. Readers were alarmed about the possibility of impersonating someone on a government portal. “This irregularity occurred not when the document was digitally signed, but when the signature was displayed. An unauthorized person could prepare a document that contained one signature but displayed another. This was not a counterfeit of a digital signature in the strict sense. If the file was loaded into the verification program, it could be quickly and cheaply verified and appropriate steps could be taken.” says Przemysław Sołdacki, CEO of AMODIT. The expert explains that hackers behave in a similar way and, through the use of suitable scripts, replace the account number at the time of transfer. “Unfortunately, it turns out that the weakest link in a digital processes is the human.” – says Przemysław Sołdacki.

If you are digitizing, do it comprehensively

In April, Krzysztof Pietraszkiewicz, president of the Polish Bank Association, emphasized in an interview that introducing electronic documents and electronic document workflows as soon as possible is very important for the entire economy. In turn, Zbigniew Jagiełło, president of PKO Bank Polski, emphasized that the digital transformation is a great opportunity to deal with the current crisis faster and more effectively.

Document digitization solutions are becoming more and more popular in Poland. Their adoption rate in Poland can be described as being at the early majority stage. However, in the global context, most companies that implement digital signatures choose integrated solutions that manage contract workflows and other business processes in one comprehensive model.

According to the Statista portal, Polish companies which have decided to implement process automation solutions do it primarily to: improve quality, productivity, and competitiveness (79.7%), increase employee safety and comfort (76.35%), and reduce costs (71.7%). Also, almost half of the Polish entrepreneurs surveyed stated that they implement automation in order to be able to make better business decisions (53.6%).

According to PMR analysts, the integration of digital signatures with AI algorithms and the Internet of Things can optimize these solutions’ operations even further. IDC experts estimate that by 2025, at least 90% of new enterprise applications will use AI algorithms. In turn, the Forbes portal indicates that artificial intelligence and machine learning are indispensable technologies which are opening up new business opportunities in several areas in the 20s of the 21st century. One of them is lowering the barriers to entry for digital solutions – both for companies that are implementing their first document workflow and for an employees who are dealing with a new solution.

“When investing, it is not worth limiting yourself to a solution that offers only one function. When thinking about digital transformation, it is worth choosing a solution that will allow the company to create a digital ecosystem based on the latest technologies such as AI or blockchain.” – emphasizes Sołdacki.

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