The Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology has announced approval of a Digital Signature Standard, which will allow federal agencies, businesses and private individuals to verify the integrity of electronic data, such as files or electronic mail messages, and the signer's identity. It applies to all federal departments, agencies and their contractors for the protection of unclassified information when digital signatures are required.
Digital signatures can be used to indicate that electronic messages and forms are authentic, much as handwritten signatures are used on checks, contracts and other paper documents. Many electronic commerce and other applications of the National Information Infrastructure will benefit from the authentication service offered by digital signatures.
The DSS makes use of public key cryptography, which relies on public and private digital keys. The DSS does not provide confidentiality of the file or message being signed. Additional encryption techniques can first be applied to a message to provide that privacy.
The government will not charge royalties to those using the standard.
The DSS, known as Federal Information Processing Standard 186, becomes effective Dec. 1, 1994. It was published in the Federal Register on May 19.
NIST is a non-regulatory agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration.