The type I interferon (IFN) response is a strong and crucial moderator for the control of viral infections. The strength of this system is illustrated by the fact that, despite some temporary discomfort like a common cold or diarrhea, most viral infections will not cause major harm to the healthy immunocompetent host. To achieve this, the immune system is equipped with a wide array of pattern recognition receptors and the subsequent coordinated type I IFN response orchestrated by plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) and conventional dendritic cells (cDCs). The production of type I IFN subtypes by dendritic cells (DCs), but also other cells is crucial for the execution of many antiviral processes. Despite this coordinated response, morbidity and mortality are still common in viral disease due to the ability of viruses to exploit the weaknesses of the immune system. Viruses successfully evade immunity and infection can result in aberrant immune responses. However, these weaknesses also open opportunities for improvement via clinical interventions as can be seen in current vaccination and antiviral treatment programs. The application of IFNs, Toll-like receptor ligands, DCs, and antiviral proteins is now being investigated to further limit viral infections. Unfortunately, a common threat during stimulation of immunity is the possible initiation or aggravation of autoimmunity. Also the translation from animal models to the human situation remains difficult. With a Strengths–Weaknesses–Opportunities–Threats (“SWOT”) analysis, we discuss the interaction between host and virus as well as (future) therapeutic options, related to the type I IFN system. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.