Electronic document giant Adobe Systems is to partner with digital certificate company GeoTrust to provide technology that will allow documents that use Adobe's popular PDF to be digitally certified.

The companies issued a joint statement to announce a document signing service that pairs GeoTrust's True Credentials digital signing technology with Adobe's Acrobat document security software. The new service will make it possible for organisations to verify the authenticity of a document using a digital certificate, which the companies claim will help fight online fraud such as phishing scans and online identity theft.

The certified document service, or "CDS," was developed jointly by Adobe and GeoTrust. The service is being marketed to businesses and organisations, such as financial services companies and government agencies, that want to deliver sensitive information to customers online without worrying about phishing and document forgery scams, said John Landwehr, group manager for security solutions and strategy at Adobe.

Reports from financial analysts and official government documents are just two areas where there is a market for secure signing technology, Landwehr said, using the recent controversy over possibly forged documents from the US National Guard concerning the performance of President George Bush as an example of the need to verify the authenticity of important documents.

To use CDS, companies first apply for a digital certificate from GeoTrust. That company screens applicants and issues a digital token to those who pass the company's vetting process. Individual users are issued a private key for signing documents, which is encrypted and stored on an iKey USB (Universal Serial Bus) token by SafeNet Inc. To sign a document, users insert their iKey token into a USB slot on their computer, then use a "Save As Certified Document" feature in Adobe's Acrobat Version 6 software to digitally sign the PDF document, Landwehr said.

Users must enter a PIN number after entering the USB token in order to sign the PDF using their private key, he said.

For organisations, such as banks, that want to digitally certify large volumes of electronic documents, GeoTrust issues a digital certificate to the organisation. That token can be stored on a iKey token or in a hardware security module such as SafeNet's Luna server-based key management system, which permits companies to sign documents more quickly. Adobe's LiveCycle Document Security software can then be used to access the key and rapidly sign documents prior to sending them out, Landwehr said.

PDF documents that have been signed display a blue ribbon in the Acrobat Reader application tray, akin to the "lock" icon commonly displayed on the bottom margin of Web browsers when viewing Web sites that use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), Landwehr said.

The goal is to make it easier for organisations to begin using digital documents for critical business communications instead of paper-based forms, making business processes that rely on those forms more efficient and easier to automate, according to a statement by Ivan Koon, senior vice president of the Intelligent Document business unit at Adobe.

While the companies are marketing the new services to individuals as well as businesses, consumers might find that the cost CDS is a bit rich for their blood: a single-user, one year credential from GeoTrust costs US$895.00. Discounts are available for enterprise-wide solutions, the companies said. Companies will also need to purchase the Adobe Acrobat software to create PDFs and, optionally, the LiveCycle Document Security software, Landwehr said.