The cellular recognition of viruses evokes the secretion of type-I interferons (IFNs) that induce an antiviral protective state. By live-cell imaging, we show that key steps of virus-induced signal transduction, IFN-β expression, and induction of IFN-stimulated genes (ISGs) are stochastic events in individual cells. The heterogeneity in IFN production is of cellular-and not viral-origin, and temporal unpredictability of IFN-β expression is largely due to cell-intrinsic noise generated both upstream and downstream of the activation of nuclear factor-κB and IFN regulatory factor transcription factors. Subsequent ISG induction occurs as a stochastic all-or-nothing switch, where the responding cells are protected against virus replication. Mathematical modelling and experimental validation show that reliable antiviral protection in the face of multi-layered cellular stochasticity is achieved by paracrine response amplification. Achieving coherent responses through intercellular communication is likely to be a more widely used strategy by mammalian cells to cope with pervasive stochasticity in signalling and gene expression.