Israel and Iran appear to be engaged in tit-for-tat cyberattacks on each other’s physical infrastructure. While attacks on information technologies — phishing, denial of service, theft — have become routine, attempts to disable physical infrastructure are a troubling escalation in cyberwarfare, and experts worry that it will soon become the new normal worldwide.

Weapons of mass disruption threaten to be the great leveler in the competition between states. And, as always, the world is woefully ill-prepared for this new reality.

In April, hackers broke into Israeli water facilities, targeting programmable logic controllers that operate valves for water distribution networks, causing pumps to malfunction as well as increase the amount of chlorine added to water that goes to homes. The disruptions occurred during a heatwave; a shutdown would have been calamitous. Excess chlorine could have sickened those who drank the water. At first the attacks were thought to have been limited, but subsequent reporting in Israel revealed that dozens of installations had been targeted. Israeli experts insist that the April incidents were only the most recent in a long series of attempts.