The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has recommended a new standard for digital signatures, but enterprises have been warned that it may lead to unnecessary cost and complexity.
XML Signature has been recommended by the W3C following collaboration with the Internet Engineering Task Force to agree an XML-based language for digital signatures.
"By offering basic data integrity and authentication tools, XML Signature provides new power for applications that enable trusted transactions of all sorts," said Tim Berners-Lee, W3C director.
The W3C said the specification is stable, contributes to web interoperability, and has been reviewed by the W3C membership, who favour its widespread adoption.
The benefit of XML Signature lies in the fact that multiple users can apply signatures to sections of XML, not just the whole document. This means that when XML documents, such as invoices and orders, are sent through a series of intermediaries, sections of a document can be signed by multiple individuals without invalidating other portions of the document.
But analysts have warned enterprises to be cautious in adopting the new standard.
"Cryptographically applied digital signatures require some form of public key infrastructure, which can add to application costs and complexity," said Gartner analyst, Vic Wheatman.
Gartner advises enterprises to carefully evaluate the extent to which they need the higher levels of security that cryptographic digital signatures provide.
"Other forms of electronic signature might be adequate but without the overhead of cryptography," said Wheatman.
Digital signatures mark a piece of information so that recipients can be sure of the identity of the signatory and the integrity of the information. This capability is important to a growing number of XML protocol, publishing and commerce applications.
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