Digital signatures are cryptographic mechanisms used to verify the authenticity and integrity of electronic data. In healthcare, where the accuracy and confidentiality of information are paramount, they play a crucial role in ensuring electronic records remain trustworthy.
Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is at the heart of digital signatures.
Key Pairs: PKI uses two related cryptographic keys: a private key (kept secret by the owner) and a public key (shared openly).
Signing: When data needs to be signed, the owner's private key is used to generate a unique digital signature for that data. This process often involves creating a hash of the data and encrypting it using the private key.
Verification: Anyone can verify the signature using the corresponding public key. They decrypt the signature to retrieve the original hash and compare it against a new hash of the received data. If they match, the data is unchanged and verified.
While individuals and organizations are common entities using digital signatures, non-human entities like websites, servers, or software can also use them.
Digital Certificates for Websites: Websites use digital certificates to establish secure (HTTPS) connections. The website's certificate, which contains its public key and has been digitally signed by a Certificate Authority (CA), is provided to visitors. This assures visitors they're interacting with a genuine website, not a malicious impersonator.
Data Fields: Individual data fields within larger datasets can be digitally signed, ensuring the integrity of specific pieces of information within broader systems (eg: registries)