Gene silencing by small RNAs (sRNAs) occurs in all three domains of life. In recent years, our appreciation of the diverse functions of sRNAs has increased, and we have identified roles for these RNAs in cellular differentiation, fitness and pathogen defence. Interestingly, although plants, nematodes and arthropods use sRNAs to combat viral infections, chordates have replaced this defence strategy with one based exclusively on proteins. This limits chordate use of sRNAs to the silencing of genome-encoded transcripts and has resulted in viruses that do not perturb sRNA-related cellular processes. This evolutionary phenomenon provides an opportunity to exploit the pre-existing chordate sRNA pathways in order to generate a range of virus-based biological tools. Here, I discuss the relationship between sRNAs and RNA viruses, detail how microRNA expression can be harnessed to control RNA viruses and describe how RNA viruses can be designed to deliver sRNAs.