Timestamping is a fundamental aspect of end-to-end digitization that enables the verification of the order of events in a digital system. In simpler terms, timestamping aids in maintaining the record when a document has been digitally signed. It is a critical tool in ensuring the accuracy and integrity of various digital transactions, including financial transactions, legal documents, and digitally signed documents. Needless to say, digital signing is a growing trend and will continue to do so. This shifting impetus towards digital signing solutions has created a corresponding demand for timestamping.
Despite its importance, enterprises are yet to understand its role in ensuring integrity and confidentiality in the digital ecosystem. A lack of timestamping protocol in your enterprise workflow can have significant consequences, including data tampering, data loss, and legal disputes.
Therefore, in this blog, we aim to explain timestamping by providing a comprehensive guide to its mechanisms and applications. We will delve into the technical aspects of timestamping, exploring how it functions.
What is Timestamping?
Timestamping is a process of assigning a unique identifier to a specific event or transaction that occurs in a digital system. It involves recording the time and date when an event or transaction occurred, along with additional metadata that may be necessary to verify its authenticity and integrity.
The primary purpose of timestamping is to ensure the order of events. It plays a critical part in the workflow, where the accuracy and integrity of data are of utmost importance. For instance, in financial transactions, timestamping is used to provide evidence of the timing and order of trades, helping to prevent fraud and ensure fair and transparent markets. In legal transactions, timestamping is often used to authenticate documents and establish a chain of custody, helping to prevent tampering and provide evidence in legal disputes.
The Need for Timestamping
Timestamping plays a critical role in ensuring trust and credibility in the digital ecosystem, but the question remains, what is the need for assigning and recording time to digitally signed documents? Let us delve a little deeper into the growing need for timestamping.
To understand the need for timestamping let us recap the concept of digital signatures. Digital signatures are equivalent to traditional handwritten signatures, used to signify the signer's intent to agree to the terms and conditions of a document or transaction. Employing a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)-based digital signature to digitally execute a document ensures minimal manual intervention. While it undoubtedly has provided ease of doing business, implementing such a process requires addressing the issue of non-repudiation.
For instance, when a document is signed with a PKI-based certificate, it captures the individual's information and the signature's date and time. However, the date and time depend on the computer's local time, which is prone to tampering. One could change the computer's time to make an expired or revoked certificate appear valid. Therefore, ensuring the authenticity of the digital signature requires additional measures.
This is where timestamping comes to play. Enterprises can resolve the issue at hand by employing a Time Stamping Authority (TSA), which leverages the RFC 3161 Time-Stamp Protocol (TSP). This protocol substantiates that the data has not been subjected to any form of unauthorized modification, thereby ensuring the integrity of the information in question. By integrating the use of a TSA in the process of document or code signing, any attempts to tamper with the timestamp will be effectively prevented.
A trusted timestamp is a digital timestamp that is created and verified by a trusted third-party timestamping authority (TSA) using secure FIPS-compliant hardware. It is used to establish the authenticity and integrity of a digital document or message by providing a reliable record of the time at which it was created, sent, or received. It employs a cryptographic algorithm that generates unique code associated with a document or message.
The code is further encrypted using a PKI certificate which ensures that the timestamp is authentic and has not been tampered with. It is important to note that the reliability of a trusted timestamp depends on the TSA that creates and verifies the timestamp. Therefore, it is essential to choose a reputable and trustworthy TSA, like eMudhra to ensure that the trusted timestamp is reliable and can be used to establish the authenticity and integrity of the digital document or message.
How does Timestamping Work in Digital Documents?
The process of timestamping a digitally signed document can be concluded in the following steps:
- A hash code is created for the data or the document that is to be timestamped.
- The hash code is sent to a TSA (time stamping authority) which adds time to the data.
- Now, the hash value and the time are hashed together (typically a SHA-1/2 hash value) to create a unique hash value.
- The newly created unique hash value is then encrypted with TSA’s private key using PKI technology.
- The digital signature of the document concatenated with the time stamp is sent to the original owner of the document.
- When the document is accessed, the encrypted code and timestamp can be decrypted using the PKI certificate to confirm that the document has not been altered since the timestamp was applied.
This provides a reliable record of the document's authenticity and integrity and can be used to demonstrate compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.
Timestamping in Network Security
In network security, timestamping protocols are used to provide a reliable and accurate way of recording the occurrence of events in a networked environment. The primary function of timestamping in this context is to establish a chronological order of events and to provide evidence of the occurrence of a particular event at a specific time.
One of the primary applications of timestamping in network security is in the prevention of replay attacks, where an attacker intercepts and replays a legitimate message to gain unauthorized access to a system. Timestamping can be used to prevent such attacks by ensuring that each message is unique and only valid for a specific time.
Furthermore, timestamping can also be used to provide evidence of compliance with legal or regulatory requirements, such as data retention laws. By accurately timestamping data, organizations can prove when specific events occurred and demonstrate that they have met their legal and regulatory obligations.
Overall, timestamping protocols play a critical role in network security by providing an accurate and reliable way of recording events in a networked environment. By ensuring the integrity and authenticity of data, timestamping helps to prevent attacks and provides a basis for legal and regulatory compliance.
Legal Framework of Timestamping Across the Globe
In India, the use of timestamping is recognized under the Information Technology Act, of 2000. The act defines electronic signatures and provides for their legal recognition, which includes the use of timestamping to establish the authenticity and integrity of electronic documents. The Indian government has also established a framework for digital signatures and certificates, which includes the use of a trusted third-party timestamping authority.
In the United States, it is governed by federal and state laws, as well as industry-specific regulations. The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) provide legal recognition for electronic signatures, including the use of timestamping.
In Europe, the legality is governed by the eIDAS Regulation, which provides a framework for electronic identification, authentication, and trust services. The regulation recognizes its use as a means of establishing the authenticity and integrity of documents and recognizes the use of a trusted third-party timestamping authority.
The use of timestamping in digital transactions is becoming increasingly important as more industries shift to digital platforms. While the legal framework varies across different countries and regions, there is a growing recognition of the importance of timestamping in ensuring the authenticity and integrity of documents.
If you are looking for a TSA to secure digital communication channels and ensure the integrity and confidentiality of your digitally signed documents, look no further!
eMudhra is a Licensed Time Stamping Authority (TSA) in India, regulated by CCA under Information and Technology Ministry. eMudhra issues a unique and irrefutable time stamp, to provide proof that it existed at a certain point in time. Our certified time stamping service is in accordance with the Indian Standard Time (IST) synchronized with National Physical Laboratory (NPL). We operate in a secure environment and are subject to regular audits and compliance.