Making documents safe for workflow

With governments starting to lay a foundation for electronic commerce, many state and local agencies are looking to commercial solutions for building public-key infrastructure systems.

With governments starting to lay a foundation for electronic commerce,

many state and local agencies are looking to commercial solutions for building

public-key infrastructure systems.

Standard PKI solutions, such as Entrust Technologies Inc.'s Entrust/

PKI and Baltimore Technologies PLC's UniCERT, ensure that a document has

come from whom you think it has and that it hasn't been altered in transit.

On the other hand, such solutions can fall short if a secure document needs

to be passed around an agency or workgroup for multiple changes and approvals.

Any change to the document in the workflow would invalidate the electronic

certificate that authenticates it.

ApproveIt 4.2, from Silanis Technology Inc., addresses that problem

by providing a flexible PKI solution that can work on its own or in conjunction

with other PKI engines. ApproveIt 4.2 is different from other PKI products

because it enables users to place multiple digital signatures in a document

without invalidating its electronic certificate. It also keeps track of

who has approved and made changes to the document along the way. You can

use ApproveIt 4.2 to route a variety of document types because it is compatible

with many software packages.

ApproveIt 4.2 enables you to choose from several kinds of devices to

capture a user's digital signature, including a signature tablet, a mouse

or a scanner. You can save the signature to a file, called a Captured Signature

(CPS) file, which is what we did, or you can configure the product to accept

real-time signatures using an input device of your choice. If the signature

is saved as a file, the owner must assign a password to that file, providing

an extra layer of security to the signature itself.

You also must choose how you want to manage the digital certificates

that accompany documents. The CPS File Certification Window offers three

options. The first option, which we used for our testing, is to use ApproveIt's

internally generated X.509 digital certificate. With this option — called

self-signing — each user's signature file resides on his local PC, enabling

individuals to sign documents before sending them on through the process.

The second option, which adds another layer of security, requires an

administrator to oversee the signature capture process and to link his own

signature file to the original user's file. Without administrator approval

and linkage, the original user's signature is not valid.

The third option enables you to use certificates that are issued and

managed by one of the third-party PKI solutions.

The ApproveIt 4.2 configuration manager offers a host of options, allowing

you to customize the package to a high level of detail. For example, you

can specify the tracking information that accompanies each signature; the

placement of the signature in the document, such as at the cursor, at a

bookmark, or before or after a certain phrase; and the signature's attributes,

such as color and line thickness.

Different security options offer document handling choices, such as

whether to require just one signature or allow more than one. (You cannot

specify the number of signatures required for a certain document approval

process.)

We do have one complaint with ApproveIt 4.2: Learning how to configure and

use the product is not easy. And installation and setup of the product was

not intuitive. You must closely follow the manual — which we quickly found

to be sorely inadequate — to get through the process.

Some important information is contained only in the addendum, not in

the main manual, so we were constantly shuffling between booklets. Fortunately,

the online documentation is significantly better, and Silanis conducts twice-weekly

World Wide Web seminars with live tutorials and question-and-answer sessions.

ApproveIt 4.2 comes in two versions: one that works with Microsoft Corp.

Office applications and one that works with applications that use Portable

Document Format, such as Adobe Systems Inc.'s Acrobat. You can install both

versions on your system simultaneously if you choose.

The two versions contain different sets of options, and we found that

although the PDF version offers fewer menu choices, this version is a more

dynamic product. For example, if a PDF document has been modified, hash

marks appear over the signatures when you save it. If a Microsoft Word document

has been modified, the only way to know about changes — without printing

it — is to open the View Signatures Report, which lists who signed the document

and when. But we would have liked to have seen some kind of visual alert.

We also discovered that the version of ApproveIt 4.2 for PDF files does

not support X.509 PKI encryption, although it does support ApproveIt's standard

CPS file encryption. CPS-encrypted signature files provide decent security,

but they are not as tight or as flexible as PKI-supported solutions.

However, Silanis will release an incremental upgrade — Version 4.21 — in

mid-February that will provide PKI support for PDF files. The upgrade will

be provided to ApproveIt 4.2 users free of charge.

Printing Problems

Also on the downside: the method for printing documents from the two

versions of ApproveIt 4.2 is inconsistent and a bit quirky.

The integration between ApproveIt and Acrobat's print functionality

is fine, enabling you to print directly from a command in Acrobat's menu.

Noncertified documents are easy to identify because they print out with

hash marks above the signatures.

Printing from a Microsoft Office application with ApproveIt 4.2 is not as

easy. If you select Word's print function, the document will print with

gray boxes around the signatures, indicating that it is not certified (even

if it is). To print a certified document without the boxes, you must select

the print function from within the ApproveIt drop-down menu. There is way

to link ApproveIt's and Word's print functions to avoid this problem, but

we don't recommend it because the process is very cumbersome.

The bottom line: Although ApproveIt 4.2's could be easier to use and

configure, the program is a good package that will provide excellent document

security to any organization. ApproveIt's unusual capability to add multiple

signatures to a document in sequence sets it apart from other certification/signature

solutions.

NEXT STORY: Submariners get their turn

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