Chaos-based image cipher has been widely investigated over the last decade or so to meet the increasing demand for real-time secure image transmission over public networks. In this paper, an improved diffusion strategy is proposed to promote the efficiency of the most widely investigated permutation-diffusion type image cipher. By using the novel bidirectional diffusion strategy, the spreading process is significantly accelerated and hence the same level of security can be achieved with fewer overall encryption rounds. Moreover, to further enhance the security of the cryptosystem, a plain-text related chaotic orbit turbulence mechanism is introduced in diffusion procedure by perturbing the control parameter of the employed chaotic system according to the cipher-pixel. Extensive cryptanalysis has been performed on the proposed scheme using differential analysis, key space analysis, various statistical analyses and key sensitivity analysis. Results of our analyses indicate that the new scheme has a satisfactory security level with a low computational complexity, which renders it a good candidate for real-time secure image transmission applications.