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updated 3/4/2010 12:37:18 PM ET 2010-03-04T17:37:18

NATO is facing new threats in cyberspace that cannot be met by lining up soldiers and tanks, the alliance's secretary-general said Thursday in an apparent reference to terror groups and criminal networks.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen said there were several international actors who want "to know what's going on inside NATO, and they also use cyberspace to achieve their goals."

He refused to give details or name groups except to say there were "many of them."

"It's really a broad range of threats. There are many actors in cyberspace, and we have to develop a capacity to protect ourselves against those attacks," Fogh Rasmussen told reporters on the sidelines of a one-day NATO seminar in Helsinki.

The alliance has been reticent to discuss its actions in countering cyberattacks and threats, but was prompted to tackle the problem after hackers unleashed a wave of attacks against NATO-member Estonia three years ago.

The barrage crippled dozens of government and corporate sites in what is one of Europe's most wired countries. It prompted NATO to enhance its cyber war capabilities and to establish the alliance's cyber defense research center in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, in 2008.

The organization also set up an agency to manage cyber defense across NATO's communication and information systems and to help members in defending against cyberattacks.

Fogh Rasmussen reiterated that "the core function" of the alliance would still be to defend its members' territories and populations. But in modernizing the alliance, "it's not sufficient to line up soldiers and tanks and military along the borders. You really have to address the threat at its roots, and it might be in cyberspace."

Thursday's seminar, on increasing strategic cooperation between NATO and its partners, was chaired by the foreign ministers of Finland and Sweden — both non-NATO members that work closely with the alliance.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said there is "no peace" in cyberspace.

"There are terrorists, spies, subversive attempts, ongoing attacks as well as preparations for much more disruptive and destructive operations," Bildt said. "There will be no security for our societies if we can't secure both our cyberspace and our orbital space."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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