Rarely a day goes by when a cyber attack isn’t in the headlines. It seems like the pace has quickened, and the results – exposure of sensitive data, risk to economic security – can quickly be impacted. According to DataLossDB, there have been 1,105 data breach incidents so far in 2012, already surpassing the 1,042 breaches recorded in 2011.

For many public sector organizations, budget resources will continue to be restrained, requiring security officials to focus on operational efficiency. Because public sector organizations provide citizens with services we rely on, helping create a safer and more secure computing environment can be an issue of national security.

But here’s the good news – the sky is not falling. Yes, attacks will continue to become more numerous and intelligent, but public sector organizations can make improvements today in order to combat these threats. Based on my experience with clients, in order for a security officer of a public sector organization to gain a big-picture view of their security posture, here are five basic recommendations that can be taken immediately:

1. Get security patch management in order: Patch management should always be a proactive effort to ensure that all of an organization’s software updates are in place. This will help eliminate vulnerabilities from infiltrating a network and lower the risks of a computer being compromised.

2. Collecting and correlating much more data: One of the good things about today’s security environment is that organizations have heaps of data – but the challenge remains on what to do with it all. Through the power of analyzing data, organizations can start predicting potential attacks before they ever happen. Collect more, know more.

3. Get privileged users under control: Time-consuming tasks related to access and identity management constantly pull IT administrators away from high-value initiatives that enable innovation. With a streamlined process in place, organizations can secure business information and technology assets, anticipate vulnerabilities and risk, and maintain timely access to information without wasting resources and budget.

4. Secure the data source: The mobile workforce is here to stay but devices like PCs, laptops, smartphones and tablets can and should be secure. Protecting data needs to take place not only on the device, but at the access gateway and on the applications. Having an endpoint management system in place to allow a phone to be wiped of confidential data if lost or stolen is just as important.

5. Reverse network thinking: Many organizations are too preoccupied worrying about what’s coming into the network to think about what is leaving. In a social world with Facebook and Twitter, security starts and ends with the user. So start looking at outbound network activity: anomalous traffic to strange places and non-compliant employee use of web resources.

Mobility, including quick adaption of BYOD, “bring your own device,” as well as cloud and social networking, are presenting new challenges to organizations. Add to this the reality with an IT infrastructure and workforce that spans the globe and organizations, and it’s easy to see how it could easily be the perfect security storm. These changes are leading to an exploding and interconnected universe in which we have millions of servers, billions of people and trillions of connected objects.

The winners in this new security war are those organizations that plan thoughtfully and are best prepared for future challenges. We see the winners adopting these five steps now.

Marc van Zadelhoff is Vice President of Strategy and Product Management, IBM Security Systems.