IFIT proteins are interferon-inducible, innate immune effector molecules that are thought to confer antiviral defence through disruption of protein-protein interactions in the host translation initiation machinery. However, recently it was discovered that IFITs could directly recognize viral RNA bearing a 5′-triphosphate group (PPP-RNA), which is a molecular signature that distinguishes it from host RNA. Here, we report crystal structures of human IFIT5, its complex with PPP-RNAs, and an N-terminal fragment of IFIT1. The structures reveal a new helical domain that houses a positively charged cavity designed to specifically engage only single stranded PPP-RNA, thus distinguishing it from the canonical cytosolic sensor of double stranded viral PPP-RNA, RIG-I. Mutational analysis, proteolysis and gel-shift assays reveal that PPP-RNA is bound in a non-sequence specific manner and requires approximately a 3-nucleotide 5′-overhang. Abrogation of PPP-RNA binding in IFIT1 and IFIT5 were found to cause a defect in the anti-viral response by HEK cells. These results demonstrate the mechanism by which IFIT proteins selectively recognize viral RNA and lend insight into their downstream effector function.